Folding Bouquet and Floral Fans – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – February 2007
by Cynthia Fendel
Realistic images of flowers added greatly to the beauty of many desirable 18th- and 19th- century hand fans. Although roses, tulips, daisies, lily-of-the valley, pansies, poppies and violets were the most common varieties of flowers used to decorate fans, nearly every imaginable blooming blossom was represented on these fashionable and functional accessories. Fans displaying roses indicated love, while forget–me-nots might indicate remembrance of a loved one in times of mourning. Flowers could be painted, printed or worked into the detailed lace design of a fan leaf, the main, flexible, pleated part of a fan. Flowers were also carved, painted or incised on fans’ sticks, made to match or complement the fan leaf.
It was during the middle of the 19th century when the French premier fan makers cleverly designed fans with artificial dimensional floral decorations. Using fabric and feathers crafted to appear as flowers, an element of whimsy was greatly added to the design of many Victorian fans. As with all clever and unique fans of the period, designers of bouquet fans in France patented their fan design. The popularity of these particular fans, as well as other quality hand fans, naturally reached the major cities of Europe and the United States.
Early examples often had elaborate hand-tinted paper lithograph leaves, with pierced bone sticks, and were decorated with gilt. One or both sides of the guard sticks (the two outermost sticks of a fan) were decorated with artificial flowers, and when held closed, appears as if the owner is grasping a bouquet. These fans were also made in a Jenny Lind style, a style of fan named after the famous Swedish singer. These Jenny Lind style fans were designed to have individual paper or silk petal leaves strung together by a thread. Both styles of these early lithograph floral fans were known to have been sold in custom-made triangular or fiddle-shaped boxes.
Later, France was also the source of various lovely Art Nouveau floral fans made to appear as a spray of tree leaves or flower petals when opened. Averaging 23 inches in width, the brushed-paper petals or leaves were attached to either plain or detailed sticks, often made to fit along with the nature theme.
The most interesting style of floral fan was patented in Paris, France, on October 9, 1897 by Marie Vincent, the only woman to file a patent for a folding bouquet floral fan. This patent protected her unique design, which allowed the outer guard sticks of the fan to fold toward the center, forming a dainty bouquet. These pretty little fans were constructed of artificial fabric flowers sewn to a green fabric fan leaf mounted on wooden sticks. Bouquet fans made from Vincent’s patent were believed to be quite fashionable during the 1900 Paris Exposition, where a visit to the city might have led to their purchase. The French eventaillist (fan maker) S. Lévy, of 41 Avenue de Opera, Paris, France, was known to have made folding rose bouquet fans adapted from this patent. Most of these French folding bouquet fans can be found with the French “Bté. S.G.DE” patent notation embossed on their guard sticks. A few years following the 1900 Paris Exposition, these fashionable floral fans reached popularity in the United States. The 1903 Harper’s Bazaar article “Fans” by May W. Mount contained a photograph of a silk poppy “Flower Fan” and mentioned:
For ball gowns, in these days when flowers are so much used, nothing in the way of a fan could be prettier than the small silken affairs which, when closed, look like a bunch of flowers, and when open appear in fluttering masses of orchids or violets or poppies, made of stamped liberty silk and arranged to simulate the natural flowers.
In 1905, Cosmopolitan magazine carried an advertisement for popular fan importer Carmelita, which displayed a photograph of a folding bouquet fan which appeared as a lily of the valley. The advertisement mentioned the “fan makes a dainty and appreciative favor for the cotillion or dinner.” Carmelita included in their advertisement that their free catalogue was illustrated with many beautiful designs of these bouquet fans. While many of the bouquet fans do survive, a Carmelita fan catalogue displaying their many examples has yet to surface.
Folding bouquet fans were created to represent a variety of floral blooms and were often purchased to match or compliment a gown. Various shades of lavender violets, as well as pink, purple or white poppies with protruding stamens, were the most commonly used flowers on these styles of fans. Folding bouquet fans of lily of the valley, carnations, chrysanthemums, daisies and roses were also manufactured. These fans were known to have dark lacquered wooden sticks, green or white painted sticks and sticks with decorative silver embossing. The metal loop at the rivet may be decorated or plain. Examples have been found that were decorated with grosgrain or silk moiré ribbon sewed to a metal loop. The loop was used to hold the sticks together when closed, forming the bouquet. A ribbon may also have been attached through the rivet loop, so that the fan could be worn on the arm when not in use. The average open width of these bouquet folding fans was approximately 12 inches, but smaller examples with a width of only 9-1/2 inches have also been found. These fans were most likely intended for use by a child or used as a salesman sample. During the same period, small fans decorated with silk flower petals were made to fold in the more conventional manner as well. When held closed, they still presented the appearance of one grasping a bouquet, similar to Marie Vincent’s patented fans. When closed, these fans were only six inches in length, and were referred to as “the six-inch fan” in the 1903 Harper’s Bazaar article on “Fans” by May W. Mount.
A renewed interest in hand fans is growing both in Europe as well as in the United States. Folding floral bouquet fans are a certain favorite among collectors worldwide.
For more information on fan collecting contact:Fan Association of North America (FANA)
PO Box 24118,
St. Simons Island, GA 31522
or visit our website at www.fanassociation.org.