This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Fans. [From Latin vannus, an apparatus for blowing the chaff from grain] A hand article for cooling the face and person by agitating the air. The first fans were composed of feathers, representing the joining of two foul wings, an obvious evidence of their Oriental origin, where similar kinds are still in use. The feathers of the peacock, ostrich, parrot and pheasant were used in their construction, and the handles were frequently formed of very costly materials. The present use of the gorgeous peacock fans by the attendants of the Pope on ceremonial occasions, is a survival of the custom of the slave waving a fan before a priest of Isis, made of feathers and painted at the top. The fans that stir the air before the rulers of Asia are of the same shape as noted above. The oldest Christian fan transmitted to us dates from the 6th century, and belonged to Queen Theode-linda, the saintly princess who possessed a nail of the holy cross, which was hammered and set in the interior of the Iron Crown of the kings of Italy. This fan is preserved in the Castle of Monza, near Milan, and is shown to the tourist as a relic. It is of leather and is divided into two leaves, which, when the fan is not in use, are folded one upon the other. The most ancient Egyptian fans known are over 3,500 years old. Its form is shown in a bas relief of Nimrod, which represents a slave in the act of cooling a liquid contained in a pitcher, with a fan shaped like a palm leaf. This is a frequent subject of Egyptian decoration. Whether Catherine de Medici obtained the folding fan from the East, or not, is unknown; but at any rate it was she who introduced it into France in 1580, and covered it with painting and jewels. A little later (1591) one set with diamonds of great cost and beauty was presented to Queen Elizabeth of England. Possibly the fan came into Spain from Mexico; if it did not, its use was greatly increased with the coming of Mexican wealth and dazzle, as the Emperor Montezuma had several of gold and the wonderous feather-work of his country, beautiful as any painting. But from whatever source it came, the Spanish senoretta adopted it at once into the armory of her attractions, and has wielded it with consumate perfection as an accesory to her bright eyes, ever since. In Japan the fan is as universal as a garment, constituting as truly as any other article, one of their necessities of life. It is at all seasons an inseparable part of Japanese dress. It is his shelter from the sun, his protection from the rain, his note-book and his plaything. The umpire at wrestling and fencing matches uses a heavy one, shaped like a huge butterfly, the handle being the body, and rendered imposing by heavy cords of silk. The various motions of the fan constitute a language, which the wrestlers fully understand and appreciate. Formerly in times of war, the Japanese commander used a large fan formed of a frame of iron covered with thick paper. In case of danger it could be shut, and a blow from its iron bones was no light affair. The originality of design and unique ideas used by the Japanese in making fans is proverbial One notable variety of fan is made of waterproof paper, which can be dipped in water, creating great coolness by evaporation without wetting the clothes. I The flat fan made of rough paper is often used as a grain winnow, to blow the charcoal fires and as a dust fan. The Japanese gentleman of the old school, who never wears a hat, uses a fan to shield his eyes from the sun. His head, bare from childhood, hardly needs shade, and when it does he spreads an umberella, and with his fan he directs his servants and saves talking. The varieties of these fans would form a curious collection in respect to form as well as quality. Paper enters largely into their composition. Bamboo forms a material very handy for the frame-work of the cheaper kinds. The paper is either decorated with paintings in all the different styles of Japanese art or else brightly colored and sprinkled over with silver and gold leaves. Such fans are manufactured in all possible qualities and prices, from 50 cents per hundred to 75 cents each. The very cheapest folding fan jobbed in the United States is 25 cents per dozen. The Japanese fan trade including all the different grades imported amounts to about $3,000,000 per anumn. Parchment paper is very extensively used in their manufacture, on acconut of holding its shape. In order to make the paste adhere well to the bamboo sticks, the dry season of the year is always selected for fan work. The most costly fans for general use are made of ostrich feathers and pearl sticks. These fans bring $60 apiece, but singularly these articles are only used in the winter season. The great demand for ostrich feathers to trim ladies' costumes has increased the price of these goods to such an extent that fans made of ostrich feathers have in the past few years about trebled in price. Common ostrich fans formerly jobbed in this country for $24 per dozen. It now costs $33 to land them, and they job for $48 per dozen. To offset this the French have brought out an imitation ostrich fan, which is quite as pretty as the genuine, but can be retailed for $1 and $2.