The Fluttering of Fans.

Submitted by Linnea Bass. (originally from a product sheet produced by Colonial Williamsburg).

THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY witnessed a considerable development in trade between China and the West. Apart from such commodities as tea, silk, and porcelain, an increasingly large proportion of Chinese exports included fancy goods such as fans and fan sticks.

Many milliners and merchants in colonial Virginia imported Chinese and European fans. They were advertised repeatedly in the local newspaper: "white Fans, coloured Fans," "black Paper Fans," "fans in cases, common fans, all sorts of wedding, mourning, second mourning, and other genteel fans."

Fan mounts were often made of paper and usually decorated on both sides. One scene generally covered the entire leaf. Perhaps the most common subjects for the painted decoration of Chinese paper fans were flowers, fruit, birds, and insects.

Bamboo was a popular material for fan sticks because of its strength and durability.

The bamboo sticks were sometimes washed over with a reddish semi-transparent lacquer.

In eighteenth-century England and in the English colonies, carrying a fan was both fashionable and functional. In fashionable circles it was said that a woman's mood was reflected in her use of her fan. To satirize this practice, Joseph Addison wrote the following article for an English daily periodical, The Spectator, No. 102, on June 27, 1711.

"Women are armed with Fans as Men with Swords, and sometimes do more Execution with them; To the End therefore that Ladies may be entire Mistresses of the Weapon which they bear, I have erected an Academy for the training up of young Women in the Exercise of the Fan, according to the most fashionable Airs and Motions that are now practised at Court. The Ladies who carry Fans under me are drawn up twice a Day in my great Hall, where they are instructed in the Use of their Arms, and exercised by the following Words of Command,

Handle your Fans,
Unfurl your Fans,
Discharge your Fans,
Ground your Fans,
Recover your Fans,
Flutter your Fans.

By the right Observation of these few plain Words of Command, a Woman of a tolerable Genius who will apply her self diligently to her Exercise for the Space of but one half Year, shall be able to give her Fan all the Graces that can possibly enter into that little modish machine.

The Fluttering of the Fans is the last, and indeed the Master-piece of the whole Exercise; but if a Lady does not mispend her Time, she may make herself Mistress of it in three Months. I generally lay aside the nog-days and the hot Time of the Summer for the teaching this Part of the Exercise; for as soon as ever I pronounce, Flutter your Fans, the Place is filled with so many Zephirs and gentle Breezes as are very refreshing in that Season of the Year, though they might be dangerous to Ladies of a tender Constitution in any other.

There is an infinite Variety of Motions to be made use of in the Flutter of a Fan: There is the angry Flutter, the modest Flutter, the timorous Flutter, the confused Flutter, the merry Flutter, and the amorous Flutter. Not to be tedious, there is scarce any Emotion in the Mind which does not produce a suitable Agitation in the Fan; insomuch, that if I only see the Fan of a disciplin'd Lady, I know very well whether she laughs, frowns, or blushes. I have seen a Fan so very angry, that it would have been dangerous for the absent Lover who provoked it to have come within the Wind of it; and at other times so very languishing, that I have been glad for the Lady's Sake the Lover was at a sufficient Distance from it."