Admire, Textiles & Costume

A souvenir fan

I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I collect is antique fans.  I like that they are small and easy to store, and that they are so evocative of the events they might have been carried at.

I wonder where they came from.  Were they a gift from a beau?  A commemoration of being grown-up enough to go out from a parent?

What secrets were told behind them?  What faces did they cool after a spirited dance?  What frocks were they worn with, and what flirtations did they signal?  So many stories in a fan!

This particular fan from my collection is particularly gorgeous, and particularly evocative of a fascinating back-story.  Whose face was reflected in the mirror.  Did she use it to spy on other partigoers?  Or to check that every hair was in place?

An antique souvenir fan


The other side of the fan tells the rest of the story.  The fan was a souvenir, brought back from somewhere exotic.

An antique souvenir fan


Did the owner buy it herself, as a memento from a special trip?

An antique souvenir fan

Or did someone bring it back for her?  A friend or admirer?

I wonder if she loved and cherished it: perhaps so much she never used the fan at all.  On the other hand, she may have thought it was odd and tacky and useless, like most souvenirs these days!

An antique souvenir fan


The fan is very cunning: the leaves fold together and slip down into the handle with its mirror inset, and then pull out again with a bit of ribbon on the top.

It’s a beautiful piece, and I’m so glad to own it, but there is so much I don’t know about it.  Where was it a souvenir of?  How old is it (someone suggested 1870s, but that’s the only guess I’ve heard).


  1. Tegan says

    The SOLE REASON why I would second an 1870s vote, is because in the Louisa May Alcott novel “An Oldfashioned Girl”, Polly has a fan with a mirror much like that when she goes to the opera (in the second half of the book).

    But I don’t know if this was a common feature or not.

  2. Fans with mirrors were used to surreptitiously spy on people. One could hold it up to glance across a room without turning around. Much like how modern ladies would use a compact.

  3. Miss Alexandra says

    bielefeld.deDas Deutsche Fächermuseum (The German Fan-Museum) in Bielefeld currently has an Exhibition on Fans-as-Souvenirs. They maybe able to help you. I’m not sure if they speak English (it is a small Museum) If you need a translator, I can help.

    The text reads:
    The small, but fine German Fan Museum is in the Center of the old town. The Exhibition presents a foray through the cultural history of fans of bygone centuries. Special Exhibitions add to the Programm.

  4. A beautiful fan! I can’t tell you more about the time of its production, but I love these completely round 19th century fans (is there a special term for these in English? The literal translation from the german word would be “wheel fan”).
    Do you know where it comes from? “Souvenir” in French means simply “to remember”. So could it as well be a commemorative item from a special event or have a moralistic touch, paired with the swallow who comes back home after the winter and always returns to the same nest? And the ornament on the fan leaf seems to imitate renaissance or baroque engravings, so it could as well be a historicizing item to remember the past.
    And the mirror can be seen as a way to look back, too, not purely as a vanity item.
    No matter what it was intended to say, a beautiful piece, collecting fans is such a lovely research area. I would love to see more of your collection.
    love, ette

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