Fans were practical accessories for a lady of style, as they could be easily modified or replaced as new designs came and went. Martha Washington is known to have been particularly fond of fans, purchasing at least 28 for herself between 1755 and 1793. This fan, one of five in the collection with a history of having been owned by Mrs. Washington, was undoubtedly one of her finest. The quality of craftsmanship, as indicated by its delicately carved and pierced ivory face, belies its Chinese origin, while its iconography and design suggest it was made for a Western market.


Elephant ivory fan comprised of twenty-four elaborately carved ribs, or "sticks," that are shielded by two carved guards flanking either end of the array. The ribs and guardsticks follow the same shape. They have rounded tops that gently taper towards the shoulder, then swell slightly through the top of the gorge and finally taper to meet at the head, which terminates in a tear-drop shape. The ribs and the guardsticks are held together at that point by a rivet. The heads of the rivet are separated from the ivory by mother of pearl washers. The ribs were originally connected by a while silk ribbon that ran through a slit in each rib, but the length of ribbon is no longer complete. The guardsticks are intricately carved and feature three-dimensional designs of Chinese pavilions surrounded by trees and flowers; the inside of the guardsticks are decorated with similar designs in low relief. The ribs are also decorated with carvings that sometimes pierce the ivory ground, often in vertical lines that run the length of the ribs. In addition to the vertical lines are delicate relief carvings of Chinese motifs in a western arrangement and style. They include a floral ground surrounding a center medallion that features a Chinese pagoda and garden, they also feature a Greek key border and neoclassical swags.





Ivory, silk, copper alloy, possibly mother of pearl


Overall: 7 7/8 in. x 14 1/4 in. x 1 7/8 in. (19.94 cm x 36.2 cm x 4.7 cm)

Credit Line

Given in memory of Lucy Ware Lewis McCormick, 1946


One roman numeral is scratched into each rib in the blank space covered by the silk ribbon, numbering 1-24. They are arranged in order from left to right: "I", "II", "III", "IV", "V", "VI", "VII", "VIII", "IX", "X", "XI", "XII", "XIII", "XIV", "XV", "XVI", "XVII", "XVIII", "XIX", "XX", "XXI", "XXII", "XIII", "XXIV".

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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