Preservation of fans


There are a variety of ways to preserve fans, depending on available resources.  Listed below are methods of preservation of fans, from amateur to professional conservation methods.  For any retailers listed on this page, please read the site disclaimer.

The various methods are:


Framing is a common method for storing fans.  The most beautiful frames to use are fan frames, with shadowboxes and regular deep picture frames also commonly used.  For mounting a fan into a frame, be aware that sunlight and backing material which is not conservation quality can damage your fan.  The best method for preservation is to utilize an acid free backing combined with acid free mounting clips or  brackets.  You can order these through museum supply or conservation businesses.  It is necessary to understand that to best preserve the fan, you should  remove the fan from direct sunlight, high heat, and temperatures below 60°F and above 75°F.  Humidity should be an average of 60°F, though variations can occur with care.

When a fan is open for a long period of time, damage can occur.  Thus, it is best to rotate the fans you have framed in 3 month intervals or less. The best method to support the fan is to create a carved backing which imitates the lay of the fan, from left to right, and varies in depth.  An example would be to carve styrofoam and cover this with acid free paper to support the fan, so the sticks do not bend with the weight of the sticks stacked upon each other.  If not properly supported and temperature controlled, the fan may lose its paint, pleating, and even glue, not to mention developing cracks in the sticks.

If you have a fan of value, you should consider procuring a professional to assist you in mounting the fan into the frame.  If not, breakage and incorrect framing can occur, which may damage your fan. 

Storing-flat vs. open:  Home storage

There are two methods of storing fans: flat or open.  Taken individually, there are pros and cons that the conservationist must be aware of, due to the potential damage to the fan.

When storing a fan open, there are two typical methods of storage: framed or unframed: 

When storing a fan in a frame, the fan is best kept in its original shape by a support of covered pegs or material holders, as well as being backed by a foam cut-out of the fan.  If the foam cut-out of the fan is cut into a graduated shape, and cut to support rather than “push” the fan outwards, the fan should retain its general original shape.  The foam should be covered in acid-free paper or material to insure that the foam will not flake or give off gaseous fumes directly onto the fan’s materials.  Most fan framers back the fan with acid-free paper, and also leave a tiny hole between the backing of the frame and the frame, to insure that fresh air will circulate into the frame.  While some persons prefer to seal the fan into the frame, it is important to note that some textiles need the fresh air to retain their good condition.  With some textiles, such as silk, the materials can eventually shatter and disintegrate more quickly with a sealed fan frame than when left exposed to the elements.  As mentioned above, 3 month intervals should be considered the maximum amount of time a fan should be stored in a frame.  Left longer, the fan has the ability to disintegrate and/or bend to its environmental conditions, permanently disfiguring the fan.

When storing a fan unframed, the home collector usually displays the fan in the exposed air or lying flat, as decoration.

By displaying a fan in a display holder without support, the fan collector is giving the fan the opportunity to bend and integrate itself to its current environment.  More specifically, the fan has a large chance of becoming damaged, due to lack of support, and storage in an incorrect display unit.  While it is not uncommon to store fans in this fashion, the fan collector should be aware of the fan’s environment and potential hazards throughout the year: moisture, insects, chemicals and handling by hands which are not protected; thus leaving residue such as oil and dirt onto the fan. As an added note, the fan collector should be advised that some hands contain natural oils which, when left undetected on natural materials such as silks and woods, can instigate a deterioration process which cannot be reversed.  In short, the natural oils from hands can imbed itself into the porous fan materials, leaving a natural oil residue behind which will eat away at the fan materials for years to come, and will be noticed after a period of time.  For this reason, fans that are left exposed should be placed in areas of the home which are non-trafficked and also out of the way of curious hands.  The less handling of fans in general, the better preserved they will remain.

The alternate unframed method is to display the fan lying flat, such as on a bedroom bureau, or on a coffee table. While elegant in its appearance, this method also has the opportunity for harm to come to the fan, due to accidents, liquids and handling of fans being common at the hip level, the level of most flat fan displays.  If desired to display the fan on a flat surface, it is suggested that the fan be placed in a non-trafficked area, and perhaps a plastic display box be placed on top of the fan, retaining its beauty while shielding it from harm.   If air exposure is desired, than it is advised that the fan be placed in an area of the home which is least exposed to direct sunlight, or has shielded sunlight, preserving the fan from disintegration.  Whenever possible, remove the fan when cleaning the room or using chemicals within the environment.

When storing a fan flat, the fan should have all its sticks placed carefully next to each other, and the material or paper should be folded along the folds already developed, unless this will contribute to the deterioration of the fan.  It is not recommended that the fan be wrapped in a binding material, such as a rubber band or ribbon to keep the fan sticks together, since the ribbon can leave dye imprints on a fan, and the rubber band can become adhered to the fan.  Instead, the fan should be wrapped in acid free paper, and the ends of the paper should be tucked in, so that the fan is not exposed.  The fan should be placed in a cool location, with a maximum of 70% humidity.  A bedroom  or closet drawer is a common place for fan storage.  If necessary to protect your fan collection from insects, fresh cedar blocks or chips placed in a protective cloth sack is recommended for the general location, instead of moth balls, which can leave gaseous fumes, and are also dangerous to children and pets.  Remember to place the moth balls away from the fans, so the bag does not touch the fans.  At least once a year, take the fan out for a general airing, as well as to review its condition or rotate the fan among your collection which is displayed.  It is not recommended that you store your fan collection in the attic, kitchen, bathroom or basement of your home, due to a large fluxuation of temperature, and the high humidity that is common.

In general, your fans should be enjoyed for many years.  The length of time that they will last in their present condition is your choice, with the pros and cons of each display choice outlined above.  Choose wisely, and realize that care should be taken to preserve the materials in the best storage environment possible for the circumstances that are available to you.

Museum Storage

Fans are stored open with support for the ribs and sticks. Fome-Cor® trays are assembled with hot-melt glue. The sides prevent the tray from bouncing up within the drawer and allow them to be stacked if they are removed for study. A cover of reemay (spun-bonded polyester cloth) is attached to trays containing feather fans to prevent the feathers from being disturbed by the motion of the drawer.

Laying the fan out in its appropriate tray, the position of the hinge pin and angle of the sticks is lightly marked with pencil. Measurements are taken of the length of the upper stick and its height at the hinge, the height of the stick one third to one half way along its length, and the distance along the curve of the fan to the same point on the opposite stick. Removing the fan, the location of the hinge pin is recessed in the foam-core. Wedges are cut of 1/4-inch Ethafoam to support the length of the upper stick and the mid-point of the ribs. The Ethafoam is glued in place with hot-melt glue and narrow ribbon ties are threaded through the foam-core to secure the two sticks. Additional ties are added when necessary to immobilize a tassel or ribbon. The accession number is marked on all sides of the tray, and a label in the drawer marks the location.

Source: Royal British Columbia Museum.  Permission to reproduce text received April 7, 1998

Related Links of Interest:  Fan Collection Preserved 

Visit Malcolm Cox’s Fan Frames for Sale + Fan Parts for Repair of Fans

Almaden Art & Frame-no URL available

5383 Camden Avenue

San Jose, Ca. 95124


fan frame image here

Two sizes for sale:

12″ x 20″: is $75. + $10. + shipping and handling.

14″ x 26″: is $93.60 + $10. + shipping and handling

Each frame is approximately 3″ deep and comes in two finishes—gold and walnut.  Due to the risks of shipping glass, it is recommended you have your own glass cut locally.