Hand-held fans of the 18th century were more than an accessory. They often commemorated political milestones, were a display of loyalty and patriotism, and celebrated popular social and scientific events.
For this post, I have compiled 8 fans related to historic events of the 18th century for you. Enjoy the beauty and singularity of the objects, and marvel at the craftsmanship.
It’s all hot air
On the photo below you see a hand painted fan to celebrate early balloon accents. The pictures show (from left to right) Jean-Pierre Blanchard’s first successful balloon flight in a hydrogen gas balloon in 1784, the launch of an hydrogen-filled balloon by Jacques Charles in December 1783, and the French brothers Robert, engineers who built the world’s first hydrogen balloon.
To war with France – at Almacks
A printed fan from 1793, chronicling England’s history since the Conquest of 1066. The fan was handed out to guests of Almacks Assembly Rooms as a display of patriotism at the beginning of the war with France in 1793.
A king in mortal peril
This fan from 1800 commemorates George III.’s escape from assassination. On 15 May 1800, James Hatfield fired a pistol at the Kind at Drury Lane Theatre. The shot missed. Hatfield was arrested, but acquitted at his trial due to insanity.
After the peace
Souvenir of the firework held at Green Park to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Capelle (1748). The peace treaty ended the War of the Austrian Succession. For the event at Green Park, the elaborate building shown on the fan was set up, and Handel composed ‘Music for The Royal Fireworks’. The firework took place in 1749, 6 month after the treaty was signed.
Crowning the victor
This fan shows Wellington being crowned as victor of one of the battles of the Peninsular Wars. The Portuguese fan was made ca. 1813, is silvered, gilded and embroidered with a gold thread.
This is to the hero
In 1805, the Royal Navy led by Nelson and his ship “Victory” defeated a French and Spanish fleet, confirming Britain as “Ruler of the Waves”. Nelson was hit by a musket ball during the battle and died shortly after. The fan commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar. It features Nelson’s famous flag signal “England expects that every man will do his duty“.
Long live the King
Spanish fan from about 1807, showing Ferdinand VII. It is probably a display of loyalty to the Spanish king who was a ‘guest’ of Napoleon at Talleyrand’s chateau in France from 1808 to 1814, while Napoleon’s elder brother ruled Spain.
Peace, joy and happines
The fan from 1802 commemorates the Peace of Amiens. The text on the leaf is: “Long may we enjoy the blessings of peace with England and France”. A note of doubts has already crept in: Under the painting of Peace in the middle of the leaf is a small text saying “Peace and General Happiness?”
Museum of London, 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN, UK
Science Museum, Exhibition Rd, Kensington, London SW7 2DD, UK
National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LJ, UK
The Fan Museum, 12 Crooms Hill, London SE10 8ER, UK