Frequently Asked Questions
These are some of the most common questions about antique fans and costume that we have been asked over the years:
How should I store my antique fans?
This is a simple to question to answer in theory, but everyone’s circumstances differ and you must decide what best suits you and your fans.
Ideally, folding fans should be stored lying folded in a drawer, covered with a sheet/s of acid free tissue paper. There is no specific need to wrap each fan individually in tissue paper, but you might want to line the bottom of the drawer with a cushioning fabric (ideally cotton) or tissue paper. I would advise against the use of plastic drawers. Metal drawers may be used, but they need to be sufficiently ventilated. A cool, dry room is the preferred location for fans. In an ideal scenario, both temperature and humidity should remain constant.
Speaking of ventilation, fans like to be opened and aired at least once a year. It will also give you a chance to check on their condition and enjoy them. Do not forget to do the same for fans that come in their own storage boxes.
Should I frame my antique fans?
This is the most frequent question we have been asked over the years. There is no easy answer, I am afraid. It is all a matter of compromise and preference. Some fans that cannot be folded anymore or cannot be sufficiently repaired, but are still worthy of display may be best kept mounted in a frame. For any other fan, the safest place is its box or a drawer (see above), but understandably, not every fan collector likes to keep their treasures hidden away. Fans were not just made to be used, but to be admired, to initiate conversation, to entice and so much more. Having a favourite fan framed and displayed in a prominent place provides a daily pleasure to the owner as well as garnering admiring glances from visitors. Fans often can make a home.
Unfortunately, all that viewing pleasure comes at a price. Prolonged suspension in a frame will cause the condition of the fan to deteriorate. Its folds will become weak, or stiff. Sticks of certain types of materials, especially horn, can warp and colours will fade over time. The same is true for fans in display cabinets. That is why it is important to rotate fans in displays, to give them a rest, so to speak, in a drawer. Rotating framed fans is rarely an option, but ought to be considered.
The location of a framed fan in a house should be considered to minimise long-term damage. Fans should not be exposed to direct sunlight, excessive heat (radiators and fireplaces) or humidity (bathrooms etc.).
In light of the above, it should be clear that whether to frame or not frame a fan is a personal choice for a collector. We all collect fans for different reasons and must do what we feel comfortable with. But above all, we ought to do what enables us to enjoy our fans most.
Should I clean my fans?
It cannot hurt to clean an exceptionally dirty fan, provided you know what you are doing. Helpful advice on how to clean fans can be found in Nancy Armstrong’s The Book of Fans (1984).
Should I attempt to repair my fan, if it is damaged?
Undertaking fan repairs is not recommended, unless you have received the necessary specific training, or are an experienced fan restorer. Whatever you do, NEVER EVER use any type of adhesive tape, or resin or silicone glue on a fan! These will substantially damage a fan and often render it beyond repair.
Can I use my antique fan?
This will depend on how robust the fan is, which is principally determined by what its materials are and how well it was made. Cotton, skin/vellum, satin, lace, wood, horn, ivory and bone fans or any combination thereof can withstand a light to moderate amount of use, as does mother of pearl, provided it is not dropped or otherwise impacted. Antique paper, silk and silk gauze fans are much less suitable for use.
Fans usually open from left to right. Both hands should be used to open a fan. Yes, we have all seen ladies in the movies or on TV flicking their fans open or shut using one hand, which is said to be a Spanish custom. It is not a good idea to attempt this with an antique fan.
How should I store my antique costume?
Cotton garments can be stored folded into drawers or boxes, or suspended from hangers. Silk garments do not like to be folded or exposed to sunlight. Smaller silk items, such as aprons, benefit from rolling and a layer of acid free tissue prior to being stored in a box or drawer. For larger, items such as dresses, the preferred storage arrangement is in a large, lidded box, lined with acid free tissue. Some antique clothing can be stored suspended on hangers. Heavily, beaded garments and garments with voluminous skirts are not suitable to be stored in this way, as their weight will cause the fabric around the shoulders to deteriorate.
Can I wash my antique costume?
As a general rule, the answer is a firm NO, with one exception. White linen and cotton items may be washed via gentle soak and squeeze and line drying.
Very rare or old lace should not be washed. Committed lace collectors prefer their lace to remain in the condition in which it was found. If a piece of vintage lace is to be re-used on a garment that is intended to be worn, then a gentle soak can be considered.
Please do not attempt to wash silk, satin or dyed and printed cotton garments, no matter how badly stained they may be. It might not be ideal, but it is part of a garment’s history. Any attempt at cleaning is almost certainly going to damage the garment.
And yes, many antique garments have a certain antique or old smell. It comes as part of their life history. Some may even smell musty, particularly if they were recently removed from some trunk or other found in an attic. Airing is key, preferably outdoors in spring or summer. Aside from that, there is little that can and ought to be done.
When collecting antique clothing, or antique fans for that matter, one has to learn to tolerate certain imperfections. Everybody finds their own level of tolerance and acceptance in that regard. 100% perfect and unaltered items are almost impossible to find, unless they spent all their life unused, well-stored in a box.
Can I wear my antique costume?
As with the framing of fans, this is a personal choice. Some items of antique clothing will withstand a certain amount of wear, but care should always be taken when doing so. If in doubt, I would advise against it.
Smaller items and accessories, for example, gloves, hats and parasols are more suitable for wear.
When using an antique parasol, care should be taken not to open the canopy fully, so as to not damage the cover. The canopy can be secured with a rubber band, instead of using the parasol’s spring.