Fans in Spalding Gentlemen’s Society Museum

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A column written by Dr Patricia Buck.

Nobody knows the origin of the hand fan. We know, from art and written texts that fans were used by Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans for chasing away insects as much as for added personal elegance.

Fans are often associated with the far east. In one oriental legend, the invention of the fan belongs to a daughter of Kan-Si (around 2697BC) who fanned herself with her mask at a masked ball. Intrigued male guests could not recognize her and this flirtation was then copied by other ladies.

Another tradition is flamenco dancing in Spain. In that country the earliest general mention is in the 14th century chronicles of Pedro.

A feather fan, I have learned, was included in the gifts given by Christopher Columbus to Queen Elizabeth.

No doubt many of the fans in the Gentlemen’s Society Museum have been employed by ladies during the 18th, 19th or even early 20th century.

Direct communications between a lady and a gentleman being somewhat improper meant that ladies designed intricate codes around the way a fan was held or moved.

Holding a fan to one’s left ear means ‘leave me alone’, for example, whereas to open it slowly means ‘wait for me’!

Our next open afternoon is Sunday, November 20 from 2.30pm at which time an informal guided tour will begin.

If you would like to come and see any of the artefacts, to find out the dates for 2017 Open Days, or arrange a tour or a research visit you can contact the museum by email at