Glossary for Fans: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Ones

This glossary for fans provides definitions for styles, parts, techniques, and materials used in the creation of them during this period. That is because fans were popular throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and women like the Princesse de Lamballe, Eliza de Feuillide, Empress Josephine, Madame Récamier, and Marie Antoinette used them. Here are the terms:

  • À l’anglaise: A single leaf that is mounted so that the ribs are visible on the reverse side of the fan.
  • À la sultane: A leaf mounted so that one or more of the sticks can be seen on the obverse side.
  • Anagrammatic: During the Restoration, fans for a time were anagrammatic. According to one source:

“[T]hat is to say, by means of an ingenious mechanism, the legend or word which was written on the mount of their sticks, changed brusquely by the transposition of the letters; in place of Roma, Amor was read, and so on.”[1]

  • Art Nouveau: This artistic style was popular between 1890 and 1920 and inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers.
  • Baroque: A highly ornate and extravagant style that was popular between the mid-seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries.
  • Battoire fan: This folding fan has wide sticks and is paddle shaped thereby resembling battledore racquets or carpet beaters.
  • Blades: These are the rigid supports that run parallel to the guards on a Brisé fan.
  • Brisé fan: This fan contains a set of sticks that are secured at the top with a cord or ribbon to hold the sticks together and the sticks are attached with a pivot pin like pleated fans.
glossary for fans - Brisé fan

Brisé fan. Courtesy of Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

  • Cabriolet fan: A folding fan with two or more leaves mounted concentrically, one above the other, thereby resembling a portion of a cabriolet horse-drawn carriage wheel.
  • Cartouche: A picture or illustration drawn within a border.
  • Chinoiserie: A style influenced by Chinese art between the mid seventeenth and late eighteenth centuries.
  • Clouté: Essentially refers to gold or silver leaf dots that were glued on and then rubbed into prepared pits in the sticks or inlaid mother-of-pearl or semi-precious stones that were secured with gold or silver metal thread.
  • Cockade fan: This fan opens into a complete circle around the rivet pin and can be either pleated or brisé in style. However, these fans were often so flamboyant, they were considered impractical.

Cabriolet fan that is French or German from about 1755. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

  • Decoupé: Cut or stamped vellum or paper that produces a decorative pattern that resembles lace.
  • Directoire or Directory: Artistic and fashion style that ran concurrent with the post-Revolution French Directory that operated between 2 November 1795 and 10 November 1799. It relied on neoclassical forms and motifs.
  • Domino: In the eighteenth century domino paper was intended to be used to line trucks and dresser drawers. It was printed in single sheets using woodblocks, and the accents were then hand painted using stencils. However, because of the paper’s decorative aspects, people began to use it to ornament fireplace mantles, cover pages ends in books, and adorn fan leaves. In addition, fan leaves were also produced to imitate the domino style.
  • Duck’s foot: An early form of the folded fan used in Italy, and described in the following way:

“Used by the ladies of Ferrara; the leaf, which opened to a quarter of a circle, was formed of alternate stripes of vellum and mica, with delicately painted ornaments. The stick was of ivory and consisted of eight narrow blades.”[2]

glossary for fans - Fan imiative of the domino style

Fan imitative of the domino style. Courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

  • Éventail: French word for fan.
  • Éventail plié: French term for folding fan.
  • Filet: An ornamental reinforcement that was the thumb piece attached to the guard at the rivet.
  • Folding fan: This fan contains a continuous pleated leaf that is supported by sticks and folds between its guards when closed. Folding fans included the brisé fan, cockade, and pleated fans.
  • Fontange fan: Although the fontage’s fan leaf is rounded, it is higher in the center than at the guards. In addition, this folding fan was named such because it resembled a high headdress popular in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
  • Forme Balloon fan: A folding fan like the fontage fan but rounded like a balloon.

Folding French fan of the 1850s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

  • Gorge: In folding fans this is the lower section of the sticks between the leaf and the head. This portion may also sometimes be created from a different material used in the upper section of the sticks, called the ribs.
  • Grisaille: This method produces monochrome shades of gray using black and white paints and was regularly used to create mourning fans during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  • Guards: These are the outer sticks, and because they are usually stronger and thicker than the other sticks, they protect the fan’s structure, particularly when it is closed. They are usually highly decorated.
  • Handmade paper: When vellum fell out of fashion for creating the leaf, handmade paper was created from linen or hemp rags that were ultimately turned into pulp and then formed into impermeable paper minus any imperfections.
  • Handscreen or Fixed fan: See Ridge fan.
  • Head: It is the lowest end of the sticks, the portion held in the hand, and the point where the fan is secured with a rivet or pivot pin.
  • Impercetible fan: When Neoclassicism became popular, women’s fashions switched from heavy silk dresses to lightweight, gauzy fashions. This reduced the need for fanning, which then resulted in the requirement for smaller fans until about 1810. Because of their small size they were called imperceptibles and matched dress fashions in that they were created from gauze, net, or silk and ornamented with metallic sequins.
  • Japonisme: French term from the late nineteenth that was related to a style influenced by Japanese art.
  • Jenny Lind fan: See Palmette fan.
  • Lace fans: These fans were created from about 1730 onward and made from handmade lace. Many contained what was called a “Renaissance” style lace created from ultra-fine flax thread. However, lace also often matched the fashion period, thus Brussels lace, Honiton lace, etc. were used.
  • Leaf: The main portion of the fan made from vellum, paper, or fabric that contains the main decoration, such as a vignette, and it also unites the ribs of a folding fan. A leaf can be single or double, and if doubled, the sticks are inserted and glued between two leaves.
  • Loop: This flat-wire ring holds a ribbon or tassel accessory and attaches to the rivet. It was not introduced until the early nineteenth century.

Lace fan about 1755. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

  • Monture: This is the fan’s skeleton that consists of the sticks and guards necessary to support the leaf.
  • Neo-classical: A style used in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that was characterized by classical antiquity using Greek and Roman-influence, geometric lines, and order. Moreover, during the latter half of the eighteenth century it was common for fans to include pictures of ruins because of the discovery of the ancient cities of Herculaneum in 1709 and Pompeii in 1748.
  • Obverse/Recto: The front of the fan.
  • Optical fans: These are fans that have some sort of optical attachment such as a lorgnette, opera glass, or spyglass. They were generally created from sturdy materials (not paper or silk) so that they could support the optical appendage and somewhat resembled hand-held eye wear with optical devices. A further description of these fans follows:

“A small opera- or spy-glass was set in the chief sticks of the fan, either at the top of the panache [guards] probably the earliest form, or at the rivet. In the former case the whole of the blades was perforated, the fan when opened showing a series of circular perforations round its upper border. The advantage of such an arrangement will be obvious a fair reveller might see without being seen, and the tell-tale blush be hid. For more distant objects the opera-glass was called into requisition, the fan used either open or closed.”[3]

Optical Fans. Public domain.

  • Palmette fan: Also called a Jenny Lind fan because the renowned international opera singer Jenny Lind carried it in the 1840s. She became even more famous after P.T. Barnum promoted her in the 1850s as the “Swedish Nightingale.” This fan is like the brisé fan but has individual leaf-shaped blades created from paper, fabric, or feathers, which are then individually attached to sticks and held by a thread.
  • Piqué: Inlaid gold or silver work used to decorate ivory or tortoiseshell.
  • Pivot pin: See Rivet.
  • Pleated fan: This fan consists of a mount and a set of sticks connected by a pivot pin or rivet at a head either shaped or rounded, which then allows the fan to open. The guards are also wider than on other fans and often more highly decorated.
  • Printed fans: Most eighteenth-century fans were rendered in oil or opaque watercolor paint, however, the first printed fans began to appear around the 1720s.
glossary for fans - palmette

Palmette or Jenny Lind fan. Courtesy of Tennants Auctioneers.

  • Reserve: Motifs located on the outer portion of the leaf that are not included in the main design.
  • Reverse/Verso: The back of the fan.
  • Ribs: Also referred to as slips, this is the upper portion of the sticks on a folding fan where the leaf or leaves are mounted. Sometimes the ribs are created from different materials than the lower section of the sticks, called the gorge.
  • Rigid fan: A rigid fan had a handle but possessed no folding mechanism, and, thus, these types of fans were primarily used at home because they were cumbersome and not very portable.
  • Rivet or Rivet pin: This is the pin that secures the sticks and guard at the head and then allows them to pivot open or close.
  • Rococo: This mid-eighteenth-century style followed the Baroque style and was a highly ornamental and theatrical style that combined asymmetry, scrolling curves, gilding, white and pastel colors, sculpted molding, and trompe l’oeil to create the illusions of frivolity, motion, and drama.
glossary for fans - rigid fan

Rigid fan from the 18th century of lacquered wood or paper mache and wood. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

  • Shoulder: This is the portion of the sticks located directly beneath the leaf and the point where the ribs and gorge meet.
  • Sticks: These are the rigid supports that run parallel to the guards, and, in folding fans, they support the leaf or leaves.
  • Telescopic fan: This is a folding fan that contains a mechanism to allow the sticks to slide into the ribs when the fan is closed. One nineteenth century description that appeared in a women’s magazine about the telescopic fan follows:

“It consists of a tube not much longer than an ordinary pencil-case, and about twice as large in circumference (of course this size can be enlarged). A little silk tassel at one end enables the person using it to draw out a circular fan, which lies hidden within till wanted; and a longer cord, with tassel at the other end, draws the apparatus back into the tube. … Its cooling properties are curious in comparison with its size; the handle, a second tube within the case, affording a leverage of considerable power.”[4]

  • Trompe l’oeil: Created in such a way that it deceives the eye making an image look three-dimensional.
  • Vellum: A fine parchment created from lamb, calf, or kid* skin and used to create the leaf in fans primarily before the late 1700s. After that time handmade paper began to be used more regularly for the leaf.
  • Vernis Martin: This is a japanning or imitation lacquer that provides a sheen, polish, and translucence to fans or other items when applied. It was named after its eighteenth-century inventors, two brothers, Guillaume and Etienne-Simon Martin.
  • Vignettes: Scenes painted on the leaf that include pastoral or landscape motifs and classical or romanticized versions of life, although sometimes what was depicted was of mythological, political, or religious origin.

*Sometimes called chicken skin.


  • [1] O. Uzanne and P. Avril, The Fan (London: J.C. Nimmo and Bain, 1884), p. 108.
  • [2] G. W. Rhead, History of the Fan (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1910), p. 113.
  • [3] ibid., 173
  • [4] The Ladies’ Companion and Monthly Magazine (London: Rogerson and Tuxford, 1868), p. 107.

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