Eye-catching & Mysterious Artifact
Upon discovering this mysterious piece in our collection with no note of its origin, we wondered what this eye-catching fan could be telling us about the past. At first glance, you might think that this fan is an eclectic female accessory, but we have found that it is more likely the work of a hobbyist, displaying clippings of personal memories and connections as well some that may simply have suited the collector's fancy. Research has allowed us to wipe the dust from the history of a forgotten nineteenth-century craze—crest collecting.
Looking at our fan, we wondered how several hotels, various elite colleges, miscellaneous Latin phrases, and an assortment of monograms and other clippings related to each other and why they were assembled on this item. Seeking what clues we could gather from names and places mentioned on several clippings, we were able to place this fan in the hands of a person living in New England in the 1890s.
Living at that time, this person was in a world filled with printed material. Recent advancements in printing provided people with a new abundance of printed text and images on items such as newspapers, advertisements, cards, and stationery. From this profusion of print came the scrapbooking hobby. (1) Having a hunch that pasting personal memories on fans must have been in vogue, we searched for more information about our “scrapbook fan,” lacking a better name at the time. After much digging, we have a European fan collector to thank for properly introducing us to our mystery artifact, an 1890s crest collecting fan. (2)
The hobby of crest collecting emerged in the United Kingdom in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1840 with the advent of uniform penny postage in England, folded letters sealed with wax were being replaced by letters mailed in envelopes. While wax seals had featured family crests or coat of arms, the new mailing method moved insignia to envelope flaps and stationery. These printed emblems became collector’s items with the first albums for collecting crests appearing in 1862. (3) Collectors primarily gathered their crests by clipping the emblems from envelopes and notepaper; however, a crest collecting industry emerged, furnishing the collector with crest sets and places to display ones collection, whether in an album or on a large fan. (4) Becoming popular in the United States during the 1890s, American crest collecting was done on large blank fans made of cloth and lacquered wood from Japan in standard colors of white, red, and black, like ours. For more examples of crest collecting fans, check out the great historical material and images on this European fan collecting site. (5)
- “Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920: More About Scrapbooks.” Duke University Libraries Digital Collections. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/eaa/guide/scrapbooks/. Accessed 27 June 2013.
- Special: Crest Collecting Fans. http://faechersammlung.de/monatE1.htm. Accessed 28 June 2013.
- Edward Law, Crest Collecting: Arms, Crests & Monograms. http://homepage.tinet.ie/~lawe/. Accessed 28 June 2013.
- Edward Law, Arms, Crest & Monograms: Sets. http://homepage.eircom.net/~lawe/SETS.htm. Accessed 28 June 2013.
- Edward Law, Crest Collecting: Arms, Crests & Monograms. http://homepage.tinet.ie/~lawe/. Accessed 28 June 2013; Special: Crest Collecting Fans. http://faechersammlung.de/monatE1.htm. Accessed 28 June 2013.
--Author: Brandi Marchant, Museum Guide