Do fans really tell the design history of Ford vehicles? An antique fan collector believes they do. The words of wisdom in this article are: check your attic. Some of these antique fans sell for $8,000 and you might have one from Great Aunt Mary laying around your attic or in the garage storage area. Actually in Iowa you might still be using one in your home.
FANS OF FANS
On display: really cool collections
BY FRED MANN
The Wichita Eagle
You ask Loyd Davis about his collection of electric fans and he pulls out a photograph.
That, he says, dropping it on a table full of fans, is an 1893 Edison "Ironclad" fan, one of only two in existence.
A buddy in Connecticut has the other one, he says.
Check out the delicate pinstriping and the tripod base, Davis says.
Friends found it for him at an estate sale in Kansas City about 20 years ago. Electric fans were no big deal to the longtime antiques dealer until then.
"At that point I got to thinking, if I could find something that rare, I ought to seriously think about keeping fans," Davis says.
Today, Davis has hundreds of fans. For security reasons, he keeps them scattered across three counties near his Prairie Village home.
The 1893 fan is so rare Davis wouldn't even bring it to the national electric fan convention under way in Wichita through Saturday.
Collectors from around the world have filled a room at the Hyatt Regency Wichita with more than 1,000 fans, ranging in price up to $8,000 for an interior conduit fan from the late 1890s.
Fans may not do much for you these days, but before central heat and air, people relied on them, and 75 years ago they cost the equivalent of $800 to $900 in today's money.
"You had to save and scrimp to get a fan. They were for the very rich," says Geoff Dunaway, president of the 500-member Antique Fan Collector's Association, which is sponsoring the event.
Now they are collectors' items, artifacts of history that spin to life and start breathing again whenever somebody plugs them in.
Dunaway says he has 3,000 fans stored in a barn behind his home in Harrison, Ark., where he is a family physician.
"My parents say before I could walk I was up on the big circulators at my grandmother's house spinning the blades while the fan wasn't running," he says.
Dunaway explains that people collect fans because they are functional, because the quality of workmanship that goes into them no longer exists, because they are made of materials that nobody can afford to use anymore, because their designs are beautiful, and because they trace the history of marketing and design in the U.S.
"If you took a line of Ford cars from 1903 to 1948, you could put fans from the same era alongside and you'd see identical art and design trends," Dunaway says.
The fans filling the tables in the Hyatt are made of brass, chrome, nickel plate, iron, aluminum.
They are powered by electricity, batteries, water, hot air, kerosene, alcohol.
Collectors have given them nicknames that the manufacturers never intended. Names like "lollipop," "feather," "peacock" and "roller coaster" -- names based on the shape of oscillators that turn the fans.
There are a couple of rare coin-operated fans, which were used in hotels. You had to drop a nickel in a slot on the back to get a cool breeze. The nickel helped the hotel pay its electric bill.
Nancy Taussig, AFCA executive director, drove to Wichita from Sarasota, Fla., with her husband, Donald, an antiques dealer. Last year, she became the first woman elected into the Fanman Hall of Fame. She sports a red, white and blue ribbon around her neck with a miniature fan that actually works.
Taussig says the first written proof of an electric fan was about 1882.
"Nobody's found that fan yet," she says.
Check your attic.