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Archiving Accessories: How to Mount a Fan for Storage

By Vivien Barnett, Fashion Archives Intern, Summer 2019

The Maryland Historical Society’s Fashion Archives holds more than dresses and garments. It also contains a multitude of fashionable accessories from hats to shoes, parasols to gloves, fans to stockings, and everything else in between. Fans were often both functional and decorative. Women in the 19th century kept cool on hot summer days under their many layers of clothing by using fans, but they also displayed their wealth and style by using beautifully adorned fans made with costly materials such as ivory, silk, metal beads, and more. This particular fan, which belonged to Mrs. Edgar M. Lazarus (née Minnie Mordecai) dates approximately from 1890 to 1910. It is constructed with stained sandalwood, silk netting, and sequins made from both metal and mother of pearl which are sewn onto the fan in a zigzag pattern.

Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Isabel Lazarus, 1944.66.57. Fan, ca. 1890-1900. Sandalwood, metal, mother of pearl, silk netting.

The first step in mounting this fan, as with any object we process, required removing it from its storage in the historic Pratt House and placing it in quarantine. While we normally freeze garments in quarantine to eradicate any possible pests, the fans cannot be frozen. They are often constructed from wood, ivory, metal, fabric, and other materials, some of which do not adjust well to low temperatures or levels of relative humidity. Furthermore, because of their composite nature, the different components of the fan would react differently to the sub-zero temperatures of the quarantine freezer, causing them to become brittle and potentially break. Instead of freezing the fans, they were sealed in quarantine for a few days and monitored to ensure that no pests were present.

To make the base of the mount for a fan, we start with a block of ethafoam, which is an archival-grade, plastic closed-cell foam. We trace the shape of the fan onto the foam, leaving about a half-inch of space around it to ensure ease in placing and removing the fan from the foam. Then, we (very carefully) carve out a space for the fan using sharp ethafoam cutting knives. The fan will be placed into this cavity so that it will be protected on all sides and will not make contact with other objects if moved in storage. Fans are mounted for storage in the closed position rather than open because they are more structurally stable when closed, preventing damage to the thinnest and most fragile parts of the object.

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Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Isabel Lazarus, 1944.66.57. Fan, ca. 1890-1900. Sandalwood, metal, mother of pearl, silk netting. Cavity-carved ethafoam block made custom for the fan.

Before the fan is placed in the mount, however, the cavity is padded with polyester batting to further protect the fan in storage, and it is then lined with Tyvek, another archival museum storage material. A piece of cotton twill tape with the accessory’s accession number written on it in archival ink is placed under the fan so that the piece can be easily identified. This also accommodates for easy removal of the fan from the mount which minimizes the amount of handling necessary to access the object. Voila, the fan mount is complete! Multiple cavity-cut ethafoam mounts can be grouped into a blueboard tray, which is then placed in a cabinet in our Fashion Archives storage room. Needless to say, I have become a big fan of fan-mounting!

The finished fan mount with polyester batting padding and tyvek lining the cavity-cut ethafoam.


[1] Stamper, Anita and Jill Condra. Clothing Through American History: The Civil War through the Gilded Age, 1861-1899. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2011. Pg. 125.