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Was There Really A ' Secret Language Of Fans '?

Discussion in 'The Ladies Tea' started by JPK Huson 1863, May 13, 2016.

  1. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Colonel Forum Host

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    Disclaimer, please? No offense intended, at all, to anyone who has done a ' fan language ' thread- it's extremely pervasive in Victorian lore. We needed fans. We were really, really hot. Sometimes incredibly so, all those layers, no respite from the prudery insisting no air reached an inch of flesh. There seems to have traditionally been some insistence we all spoke with these fans.

    fan pic.jpg
    It's actually tough finding photos of women and their fans ( Pinterest )


    Well... ' The Language Of Fans ' seems to be largely one of those rose-scented, over-heated, lace-made-in-China, reproduction Victoriana schluckfests, in this era- I did say ' largely '. There's some history behind the schluckfest, hang on, before anyone yells at me. First please ask oneself well, ok, imagine a bedecked, bescented and bejeweled be-belle making fine use of her fan. She taps her eye brow twice. Nothing. Other eyebrow. Not a thing. She hits herself over her coifed head with said fan- not a peep from her chosen cavalier. Besides, it's beginning to leave a mark. Why? Because she can make all the hidden, secret signals from 1861 until the Phillies catcher brings the World Series back to Pennsylvania, it doesn't mean her cavalier will have the vaguest clue what in blazes she is trying to indicate. That's why. Do any of these sites ever 'splain how that half of the equation works?

    To make your head spin a little, clever marketers printed up ' fan languages ', ON fans, in 1797- with The Ladies Telegraph and The Ladies Conversation. The thing is, both depended on a series of intricate instructions and code- what one's intentions were, to whom and why. It would have to be ascertained what you would wish to say, first, then did your young man have a fan so he could translate? AND- if everyone had this language, may as well throw away all the fans and just say it out loud. What's so secret?

    fan conversation.jpg

    Ladies Conversation Fan , Charles Francis Badini, 1797, The Ladies Telegraph, Robert 1798.
    fan telegraph 1798.jpg

    Of course, instructions appeared in the next century- with the same problem. How in blazes did the poor fellow she is signaling understand her endless gyrations? I adore my husband. I also know that I can say the same thing, out loud, three times while looking him in the eyes- and 30 minutes later he has not heard what it is I stated.
    fan 1865 2a.jpg fan 1865 2b.JPG
    In The Swans Shadow

    Men are very late developers, is the thing. Young men will be annoyed there is something in front of this woman's face and far from joining her in secretive messages would be far more likely to say " I say, MISS! MISS!! I CAN'T UNDERSTAND YOU BECAUSE THAT BLASTED FAN IS FRONT OF YOUR FACE, WHAT'S THAT YOU SAID?

    Mine would have been used to hide pimples.

    " It is uncertain whether secret hand fan communication was actually practiced or whether it was just a satirical and cynical ploy used by fan makers to sell their products. "
    http://hubpages.com/style/Fanology-The-Secret-Language-of-Hand-Fans

    Fans were a lovely addition to wardrobe- necessity turned things of beauty! Wish they'd make a come back.



    fan 1890.jpg
    Fixed Fan, 1890 Pinterest

    This is a site, article short but heavily sourced- and not the only one I visited. I'm just extremely suspicious of things which do not make sense- and this really doesn't? Charming, yes, nostalgic certainly- trying to follow the instructions on the printed fans, for instance, your intended would have become engaged, married and raised three children by another woman.
    fan cavaliers and ladies 1865.jpg
    Cavaliers and Ladies, 1860's pinterest

    " It seems that if there was any form of communication involving fan movements it had more to do with body language and general flirtatious behaviour, for example acting coy by hiding your face behind your fan, or elegantly lifting your fan to expose your dainty pale wrists. In any case, impracticable and as unlikely as it was, the secret language of the hand fan it is certainly an idea that persists."

    fan 19th century.jpg

    You can see by hair styles where this guide-to-fan language comes into History. I don't know. Really not being flippant but think ' I am engaged ' would be achieved by maybe not peeking at someone from around one's fan in the first place? Still maintain that is the entire room understood this language- the girl saying ' Follow Me ' would be watched by the entire room..... as would ' I Love You ' in fan-ese. You just know the local busy-body would make it her business to point each of these out to an entire social gathering, right? " OH Good Glory, if it isn't Miss Hoskins tying her garter in public again! These public displays of affection are positively indecent! Why, I saw her fantell that handsome fiancée of hers she loved him right in the middle of Stanhope's ball! "

    Same site, hope it's ok to use her wrap-up. Not being a social usage expert, it just seems excellent. Elegant fripperies
    fan childs.jpg

    fan fixed2.jpg

    fan mary brice.JPG
    Mary Brice

    fan met 2tone1.jpg fan met blue1.jpg fan met blue2.JPG

    fan pic3.jpg
    You can see where women would have wished to include some extremely beautiful works of art in a portrait-
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2016
    John Hartwell, Allie, donna and 3 others like this.

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  3. MRB1863

    MRB1863 Captain Forum Host

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    You've made me a fan of your thread!
     
  4. Northern Light

    Northern Light Captain

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    Groan!
     
  5. MRB1863

    MRB1863 Captain Forum Host

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    Oh, well......
     
  6. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Captain

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    I was just looking up fans last week (design idea). I found a couple photos of Julia Grant holding one, but the fan was closed.

    We use them at the Faire. I have two cheap ones that fold, and I have a beautiful handmade feather and jewel one. Similar to this.

    The message I send: "OMG, it's flippin' hot! Why am I outside?!"
     
  7. Northern Light

    Northern Light Captain

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    Great thread, JPK. I was wondering if maybe the boy's mothers or sisters taught them the "language of Fans".
    And remember that courting young men have more reason to listen to the woman of their dreams than men seem to have after lengthy marriages.:rolleyes:
     
  8. Anna Elizabeth Henry

    Anna Elizabeth Henry 2nd Lieutenant Silver Patron

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    Excellent thread! Always loved fans. Picked up a few period inspired reproduction ones a number of years ago at a plantation gift shop. One came with a little booklet describing the art of flirting with the fan. It gave me the impression that you already had a beau and discussed these gestures with him so he'd know what you were communicating across a crowded room. Makes sense, kind of like a personal sign language between two people.
     
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  9. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    Wonderful thread. I remember many ladies in my Granny's church always had them. Got very hot in there during the summer. They would fan away.
     
  10. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Captain

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    That's a cool idea.

    Plus if a couple is going to come up with a type of lover's sign language, it's probably best that a lady's fan does most of the communicating, and the gestures aren't left up to the man. [​IMG]
     
  11. Allie

    Allie Captain

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    You made me laugh, because I've wondered exactly the same thing about the language of fans! (As well as the language of flowers, etc.) Girls could make up codes all day long, but that didn't mean the guys had a clue.

    I found three older fans inherited from my grandma while going through a drawer just the other day. No idea where they came from or how old but I know she had inherited them from someone of an earlier generation - my guess would be 1890's but honestly, it's a fan, how do you date it? One white lace, one ivory, and one painted.
     
  12. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Captain

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    Oh Allie, that's wonderful! What a treasure.
     
  13. Anna Elizabeth Henry

    Anna Elizabeth Henry 2nd Lieutenant Silver Patron

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    Makes me think about the church scene in "Fried Green Tomatoes" where ladies are fanning themselves! :happy:

    What a lovely treasure to stumble upon! Enjoy them! :smile:

    Also, as far as the language of flowers, it appears to be a legitimate 'thing' in the Victorian era. There was a lot of interest in the natural sciences and botany at the time coupled with subtle means of courtship. Read an excellent book on the topic last year, "A Victorian Flower Dictionary" which gives a history of the language of flowers along with various meanings.
     
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  14. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Colonel Forum Host

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    Cool idea, et tu, Lori Ann?

    It's possible and agreed hugely, please, please do not put the whole burden on the man for remembering. I don't know. It's just that girls are far, far more likely to have delighted in this kind of thing- the male involved? I'm just thinking of anyone I've ever known. With the best intentions ever, would no doubt play along- to be helpful, not in the same spirit as a young girl. Plus, a lot of these signals are intended to be between individuals who do not know each other. One of the ' signals ' listed is a young woman peeking from behind a fan, to signal she is engaged. Boy would that be confusing for a guy. He's thinking. " OH, so why are you peeking at me, like it's a secret? IS it secret? Are WE a secret? Is there a WE? Hang on, what? Rats, if phones were invented you could text me and we could settle this without fans. Don't tell your fiancée. "
     
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  15. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Colonel Forum Host

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    Yes, how lovely! Maybe just Google the stuffing out of ' antique fan ', there will be some corresponding images to help date them? We have several, just not in the amazing condition yours are. Yours sound like the kind of treasures you could hang in frames, you know?

    I don't know. It just always sounded so much like the secret codes my buddies and I spent hours and hours on- without the fans- no idea why. Wanted to be a spy, also no idea why, as a small child for a brief period. That lasted until discovering how frequently real spies died in the their line of work.

    There's a book left down the line of women in Mom's family- I don't think intentionally so anyone could learn anything, just a ' Lady's ' book. It's called ' A Lady's Companion ', by Peck and Bliss, 1860 " Edited by a Lady ". I can never figure out if we have it because both Peck and Bliss are direct-line grandparents or because it was read and heeded. Anyway- it's social usage- what to do, how to behave, what is expected of a ' lady' across the board, from birth onwards- crazy good reading if incredibly offensive in 100 different ways. There are quite a few sections on meeting, courting and exchanging all manner of information with young men- inclusive of awkwardness, really looked for fans. Not that one book is the begin-all and end-all of Life, The Universe and Everything for 1860's era women but nothing in this one.
     
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  16. JPK Huson 1863

    JPK Huson 1863 Colonel Forum Host

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    Whoa, thank you!! That looks like several threads in Ladies Tea- do not ask me why Victorian flowers are more interesting than 2016, they just are. I wish you well-read people would not continually over-burden my bookshelves. All the nick nacks are homeless and complaining in the laundry room.
     

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