The Origin of Hand Fans

Two legends place the invention of hand fans in the Far East:

  • The first legend says it was during the torch festivity in China. The beautiful daughter of an important person, suffocated by the heat, took off her mask that preserved her privacy and with a nervous gesture shook it in front of her nose and refreshed herself. This daring but intelligent gesture was then imitated by the rest of the ladies.
  • The second legend comes from Japan and it’s more related to the folding fan. It's said that happened during a hot night in the home of a humble artisan when a bat entered through the window and scared his wife. The following day, this artisan tried to imitate the folding membranes of the wings to elaborate a folding hand fan. Whether or not such an origin is true, the oldest Japanese folding fans are called "komori", that in Japanese means "bat”.

But above are only legends. It cannot be stated firmly when and where hand fans were first invented. For example, in ancient Egypt, in Tutankhamun’s tomb were found two hand fans with precious metal handles as part of the treasure. Besides dissipating heat, they also used fans to keep away flies. At it was then when it became an attribute of the powerful and the sumptuousness the simple act of having slaves frightening flies with a fan.

In the Ancient Greece, 5th century before Christ, hand fans were painted over glasses and ceramics. They had shorter handles so it could be used with one hand.

God Eros giving a hand fan to a beautiful lady

The god Eros (god of the sexual attraction, love and sex) offering a woman a hand fan as an attribute of seduction and flirtation. Archaeological Museum of Milan (Italy)

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Hand Fans