All About Antique Hand-Held Fans

 ‘Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them’.  The Spectator, 1711

Portrait Of A Lady with a Fan - James Tissot

Portrait Of A Lady with a Fan – James Tissot

Although not often carried today, antique and period fans are considered collector’s items and are coveted for their artistry and beauty.

If you would like to own or collect antique hand-held fans, the information below will help you with your purchase.

An Overview

  • Throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras, up until the First World War, hand-held fans were considered an indispensable lady-like accessory.
  • They were made from an endless assortment of hand-painted silk, lace, feathers, fabrics, vellum, bone, shell, mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, and ivory.
  • They were often adorned with jewels and fine inlay.
  • Fans may not have been strictly speaking jewelry but there were certainly worn, collected, and admired in the same fashion.
  • They were often worn as bridal and bridesmaid accessories.
  • There are also many examples of small, children’s fans, often for flower girls and bridesmaids. 
  • Many fans displayed a strong Asian design influence.

The Language of Fans

  • Although fans may have had some practical purpose in warm climates, generally speaking, they were held for show and displays of opulence.
  • Fans were often associated with flirtation and scenes of pastoral dalliance were a popular subject for their decoration.
  • Cupid often appears in French and English 18th-century fan decoration, alluding to the role of the fan as an instrument of romance and flirtation.
  • A fan was an important accessory for a wealthy woman, particularly when in formal attire.
  • The fan was an important tool in non-verbal communication. The manner in which a lady held and moved her fan conveyed her feelings toward those around her and could display boredom, disapproval, flirtation, and shyness, among other nuanced expressions.
  • This is referred to as ‘The Language of Fans’ and was practiced by some as a developed art-form.
Lady with Fan - Gustav Klimt

Lady with Fan – Gustav Klimt (1917)

Parts of the fan

The Leaf

  • This is the part that’s most visible to the eye and the source of the most decorative expression for fan makers.  It is usually created so that it compacts when the fan is closed.

The Monture

  • This includes the sticks, the ribs and the outside guards.

The Pivot or the Head

  • This is the part that anchors the bottom of the fan.

Decorative Sticks

  • The sticks of the fans could often be highly decorative with delicate piercing or carving work which gave the appearance of lace or filigree.
  • They could be made from bone, ivory, shell, mother-of-pearl, bamboo, wood, celluloid, lucite, tortoise-shell, and, later on, Bakelite and plastic.
  • Many fan sticks were produced in China for import into Europe. The wide, closely spaced ivory sticks of this hand-painted fan below are typical of the 1750s:

France, c. 1750-1760
Fan, gouache on vellum, with carved and pierced ivory sticks and guards.
V&A Museum

Souvenir Fans

  • During the period 1750-1790. the English Upper Classes brought back souvenir fans when they went to Italy on their ‘Grand Tour’.
  • England also produced many souvenir fans throughout the 18th and 19th century, such as this ladies ‘Traveling Fan’ decorated with hand-colored maps:
Fan mount - The Ladies Travelling Fan, of England and Wales

UK, c. 1788
Fan, Engraving and soft-ground etching on paper, colored by hand
V&A Museum


Rome, c. 1770-1780
Gouache painted on vellum, carved, inlaid and pierced ivory
V&A Museum

Brisé fans

  • These had no fan leaf and are made of fan sticks held in place by a silk cord or ribbon.
  • The sticks of brisé fans are often exceptionally decorative.

France, c. 1775-1800Fan
Tortoiseshell pierced work, gilding and painting
V&A Museum

Painted Fans

  • Many fans were as finely hand-painted as masterful wall art and indeed many were replicas of famous works.
  • Lithographed fans were also popular, as well as printed and hand-colored fans.

Great Britain, late 18th century.
Fan, tortoiseshell, vellum, water-color, and gilt
V&A Museum


France, c. 1900
Silk painted with gouache, applied mother of pearl, sequins, mother of pearl inlaid with gilt, pierced and painted, brass
V&A Museum


France, 1760-1770
Gouache on vellum, with insertions of cotton net; carved ivory sticks and articulated guards
V&A Museum


  • Feathers were a popular material for fans.
  • During the Victorian era, ostrich feathers dyed in a rainbow of colors were popular, particularly black.
  • During the later part of the 19th century, the use of feathers could be taken to quite an extreme and whole stuffed birds would sometimes be used, despite many protests from conservationists and nature lovers of the time.
  • The fashion for whole birds reached a height in the 1880s.

Brazil, c. 1880s
Stuffed bird, feathers, wrapped silk, ivory, glued beetle
V&A Museum


China, c. 1935
Feather with bone
V&A Museum


  • Many fans were made from hand-made lace, often very finely made and representing hours of labor.
  • Machine-made lace was widely available to everyone through the second half of the 19th century.
  • However, the fashion for high-quality hand-made lace saw a boom in the 1890s and 1900s, peaking between 1895 and 1905.
  • During the 1850s and 1860s, black Chantilly-style lace was immensely popular, much of it made in France.
Fan leaf

England, 1878
Hand-made Bobbin lace fan leaf
V&A Museum

Fan leaf

France, 1899
Chantilly lace fan leaf.
V&A Museum


  • Embroidery is seen on many fans throughout both the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Between the years of 1850 to 1900, machine embroidery was developed and soon rivaled hand-embroidery in popularity.
  • In the 1870s and 1880s, fans and dresses were usually made of the same matching fabric.

UK, 1880-1890
Machine-embroidered satin in silks, edged with bobbin lace, backed with silk, mother-of-pearl, metal
V&A Museum


UK, c. 1820-1830
Silk appliqué, hand-embroidered with copper-gilt thread and spangles, insertion of silk net, with carved and pierced ivory sticks and guards decorated with silver foil
V&A Museum


  • The hand-screen was another form of fan.
  • Women generally used them indoors to protect their faces from fireside heat.
  • Handscreens were often produced in pairs and placed one on either end of the mantlepiece.

France, 1870-1880
Gauze, applied paper, silk and, carved and pierced ivory handle
V&A Museum

Chinese Fans

  • Towards the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, Chinese fans became popular.
  • These generally had a rounded shape and didn’t fold.
  • The early ones were hand-painted and the later ones were printed.

China, 19th century
Embroidered silk appliqués on gilt thread gauze, tortoise-shell and bamboo frame with enamel plaques
V&A Museum

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Fans


Paris, c. 1911
Printed and hand-colored paper, with painted silk, bone, metal and silk thread
V&A Museum


Paris, c. 1920-1929
Printed paper and wood
V&A Museum

Novelty Fans

  • During the first part of the 20th century, many novelty fans were created.
  • This bird-shaped fan below is a typical example.
  • Cat’s heads and butterfly shapes were also created.

UK, c. 1910
Textured paper painted with gouache, and cedarwood
V&A Museum


  • As the use of fans declined for personal use in the 20th century, designers and businesses increasingly used them as a medium for advertising and self-promotion.
  • The asymmetrical shape of this fan below is typical of the 1950s.

France, c. 1950-1955
Hand-painted paper and with wooden sticks
V&A Museum

Fan cases

  • The fan cases themselves were also often highly decorative, created to match the fans.
Fan case

China, c. 1880-1930
Velvet weave fan cases
V&A Museum


Welsh Gold in Antique and Vintage Jewelry

a painting of two women in traditional dress against a mountainous landscape
William Dyce, Welsh Landscape with Two Women Knitting (1860)

Welsh Gold is considered to be among the world’s most sought after and valued gold because of its scarcity and beauty.

It comes from two areas of Wales:

  • One in North Wales, in the areas of Barmouth, Dolgellau, and Snowdonia.
  • The other area is in South Wales, in the valley of River Cothi at Dolaucothi.
  • At present, there are only three companies licensed to work with pure unmixed Welsh Gold (one is listed in the links at the bottom of this page).
  • It currently sells for approximately $1500 ounce.  There are no active gold mines currently in Wales, so all Welsh gold comes from a diminishing supply.  It is illegal to prospect for gold in Wales.


There are a number of misconceptions about Welsh Gold.

  • One is that it is naturally Rose Gold in color.  This is simply due to copper and gold has often been a popular alloy throughout the ages, especially in Britain.  In its natural state, Welsh Gold is either the usual yellow gold color or it can be somewhat whitish as it can be found alloyed with silver in its natural state (this is called electrum). However, I have also read that Welsh Gold used to be naturally alloyed with copper and it is only in recent years that it is always purified so I am not certain of the truth.  Regardless, Welsh Gold is not actually much different in chemical composition from gold from anywhere in the world.  It is perhaps simply the psychological appeal of having gold from Wales that gives it its value.
  • The other very widely spread misconception is that jewelry commonly sold as ‘Welsh gold’ contains more than a tiny percentage of Welsh gold.  Often it is literally just a touch of Welsh gold and the rest is gold bullion.  Watch out for the words ‘presence of Welsh gold’ and ‘contains Welsh gold’.  A genuinely pure Welsh gold item is very valuable and rare.  In contemporary jewelry, a piece with 10% Welsh gold is about the highest percentage available.

Assay Marks

  • When only gold of Welsh origin is in the piece, it will have the assay mark Aur Cymru. The Aur Cymru stamp is three feathers.
  • As with other British gold pieces, you will also see The Goldsmith Makers Mark, The Assay Standard Hallmark, The Assay Office Mark, and The Date Letter.
  • The Welsh Dragon Mark on a piece means that Welsh Gold is ‘present’ but it doesn’t say by what percentage.


  • Other unique marks you will see will be makers marks of Welsh jeweler’s but they do not mean that the gold is purely Welsh gold, only the AC mark will mean that.

Royal Connections

  • Since 1923, Welsh Gold has been favored by the British royal family which has consequently enhanced the value of Welsh gold even further.
Kate Middleton wearing her engagement ring

Kate Middleton wearing her Welsh Gold engagement ring.

What is an Antique Jewelry Parure?

The word ‘parure‘ comes from the French ‘parer’ meaning ‘to adorn’. A parure is a complete matching set of jewelry, usually consisting of:

  • A brooch.
  • A ring.
  • A bracelet.
  • A pair of earrings.
  • A necklace.

Some parures can have many more pieces and can include a matching:

  • Tiara.
  • Diadem.
  • Stomacher.
  • Aigrette.
  • Sévigné.
  • Set of buttons.


  • Wearing an entire parure is referred to as ‘en suite’.
  • A demi-parure has fewer pieces and usually consists of two or sometimes three pieces, often a necklace and matching earrings.

The History of Parures

  • Parures have been popular since the 1600s.
  • They reached a height of popularity in the Napoleonic era and are especially associated with France, although other European nations also owned them.
  • Although more of a Victorian concept, parures can be found until the Art Deco era.
  • Because of the number of children people used to have, parures were frequently divided out in inheritances and it is rare to find a complete parure.   A complete set is considered more valuable when sold together than its individual parts.



Comprising a sculpted gold necklace of foliate motif; two bracelets, a brooch, a pair of ear pendants and a tiara en suite, circa 1830, necklace 17½ ins., bracelets 7 ins., with French assay marks, French importation marks and maker’s marks, in a red leather fitted case (6)
Christie’s Sale 2694













Comprising: a comb tiara set with a fringe of oval pink topazes to the openwork gold, blue enamel, and diamond decoration; a necklace/choker with removable links supporting a detachable plaque brooch and topaz pendant; a pair of earrings with detachable pendants (may be added to necklace/brooch combination); and a brooch with pendant hoop, all of Neo-Classical and foliate design, mounted in silver and gold, circa 1840
Christie’s Sale 1368




















Parure of Gold and Silver and Coral by Jean Despres
c. 1928-1975
Christie’s Sale 5557











Christie’s Sale 3026








A Victorian coral demi-parure

A Victorian coral demi-parure c. 1850
Christie’s Sale 8127










A Victorian gold and amethyst demi-parure

A Victorian gold and amethyst demi-parure
Christie’s Sale 6423