Hand Fans in John and Carolyn Grossman Collection 

The John and Carolyn Grossman Collection contains approximately 250,000 items, all of which document chromolithography, a process of printing in colors that was developed in Europe during the early 1800s and arrived in America in 1840. As the 19th century progressed, chromolithographic illustrations could be found on such items as postcards, greeting cards, calendars, labels, trade cards, posters, books, children’s games, decorative prints, and numerous other items, including hand fans, objects especially prized by Carolyn Grossman.

The hand fans in the Grossman Collection date from the 1890s to about 1915, years that are the high-water mark for chromolithographic work. They can be grouped into seven categories: valentines, calendars, advertisements, nature, pets, children, and holidays. Of course, sometimes a fan transcends a single category, such as a Christmas fan that shows a calendar and holly.

The hand fans in the Grossman Collection, like many elsewhere, are largely by unknown individuals. Enough exceptions exist, however, to indicate that accomplished artists, writers, and publishers were involved in creating them. Artists include Ellen Clapsaddle (1865-1934) and Frances Brundage (1854-1937); writers include Marguerite Radcliffe, Alice Reed, H. M. Burnside, and Eliza Cook (1818-1889); and publishers include the International Art Publishing Co., Ernest Nister, E. P. Dutton & Co., Raphael Tuck & Sons, the American Lithographic Co., and Promis & Co. Much of the printing was done in Germany, where chromolithography was practiced so well.

Most, if not all, of the hand fans in the Grossman Collection were produced by women, and the fans demonstrate a high level of beauty and creativity. Their intricate designs are some of the finest examples of their kind. Students of Victorian imagery will note that images on fans also appear on other items. For instance, the young girl to the far right in “To my Sweetheart,” a fan illustrated by Frances Brundage (No. 10), also shows up on a trade card for Glenwood Ranges.

To view the 72 images of hand fans in the Grossman Collection, simply click on the thumbnail images below. Captions and further text will also be displayed.

This online exhibition was generously supported by a grant from the Fan Association of North America. We acknowledge with great thanks their interest and assistance.