Tuesday, August 12, 2014

With A Flick Of The Wrist

In 1827, at the age of twenty-five, Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy established a business at #15 on the Rue de la Paix in Paris, France to produce hand fans. Although the company changed hands (no pun intended) over the years, and although the demand for hand fans dropped drastically when electric operated fans came into vogue, the Duvelleroy company is currently still operating. Hand held fans were very fashionable in France and elsewhere, including the United States.

The object of this post is a hand fan that I purchased for a few dollars at a local flea market a couple years ago. As with any item that comes into my possession, I inspected it carefully to discover more information about it. The inspection of this item revealed that it was constructed of two layers of paper pasted together with fourteen blades between them that appear, at first glance, to be ivory, but upon closer inspection seem to be bakelite. Bakelite, invented in 1907, was an early precursor of plastic. The blades have swirling line designs etched into their surfaces, part of which are then painted with a gold colored paint. The two ends are given sturdiness by the attachment of bakelite 'guards' which also have swirling line etched designs on their surfaces.

The paper mounts, or solid paper surfaces, of the fan have what appears to be a lithographed scene on one side and an engraved design on the other. The 'front' mount bears a colored scene of seven ladies in a garden. At first I thought that the scene depicted the Seven Muses ~ but then I remembered that there were nine, not just seven, muses: Calliope (the Muse of Poetry), Clio (the Muse of History), Euterpe (the Muse of Song), Erato (the Muse of Lyric Poetry), Melpomene (the Muse of Tragedy), Polyhymnia (the Muse if Hymns), Terpsichore (the Muse of Dance), Thalia (the Muse of Comedy) and Urania (the Muse of Astronomy). I then thought that maybe the scene depicted the Seven Graces ~ but then I remembered that there were only Three Graces: Aglaia (the Grace of beauty), Euphrosyne (the Grace of Mirth) and Thalia (the Grace of Charity). Although I can't identify them, the seven ladies are dressed in beautiful, flowing gowns, and the garden in which they meet is dense with vegitation with an ancient stone temple in the background. The back mount of the fan is plain with an engraved border of musical instruments positioned amid gracefully arching flourishes in imitation of acanthus leaves. On the back is attached a small rectangular piece of the same color paper as the fan mount and printed with the wording: With Best Wishes from Penn Alto Hotel George D. Worthington. It would appear, from the similarity of the paper and ink color of the attached rectangle to the fan mount, that the attached piece was not added as an afterthought, but attached at the time that the fan was produced.

And finally, on the back mount, in very small print at the base of the mount, is the wording: Maquet Grav  10 Rue de la Paix, Paris (meaning that it was 'engraved' at that address).
As noted above, the Duvelleroy hand fan company was established at 15 Rue de la Paix. Whether a portion of that business was also located at 10 Rue de la Paix has not been determined. What is known is that the address had a long history of culture. In the late-1800s Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) maintained a business titled: Frederic's at 10 Rue de la Paix. Mr. Worth is credited with having created the so-called "fashion industry" and "haute couture". Then, in 1903, the perfume company, Caron, established by the brothers Ernest and Raoul Daltroff, moved from Rue Rossini to 10 Rue de la Paix. Perhaps the Duvelleroy company produced fans for Caron, who might have marketed them along with their fragrances.

What I later discovered was that George D. Worthington managed the Penn Alto Hotel circa 1923-25. He might have had the fans produced and stamped with the message: "With Best Wishes From Penn Alto Hotel George D. Worthington" to celebrate his taking over the management of the hotel. The fan would have been a very fashionable accessory for the lady who stayed at the most fashionable hotel in the city of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

The hand fan was ostensibly used to generate a breeze of air, but it also provided the lady who wielded it with a 'language'. This language was invented as part of its advertising by Jules Duvelleroy, a son of Jean-Pierre who managed the company's London House.
A fan extended all the way open, and held in front of the face just below the eyes said "Follow me". But if the lady opened her fan all the way and covered her left eye with it, she was saying "I am engaged". A fan only partially opened and held below both eyes said "I love you", and if the lady then closed the fan as she dropped her hand forward, she was asking: "Do you love me?" So, with a flick of the wrist, the lady would let her feelings be known.


  1. I just bought the exact same fan at an antique store in Georgia for a few dollars. It's in worse condition than yours but it seemed interesting. The back on my fan has a logo that was colored over with black crayon it seems. Does yours have a logo as well? I was curious to know what it says. At the center there seems to be a capital K. Thanks!

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