Personal Effects

Published 8:55 am Monday, April 3, 2017


Question: Dear Mr. Sampson, my daughter said to contact you as you’d know how to help and advise us. This fan is ivory and was carried by my great-grandmother during the Civil War. We don’t know how it’s got into such a state. We keep it in acid free tissue and in an acid free box. It’s just rough.

Trouble is my granddaughter wants to use it for her wedding in August. What should we do? Do we send it away to be restored or talk her into something else. Her heart is really set on it. Being it’s ivory, can we use it in the wedding? Help!

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Answer: Ahhh yes, the dreaded ivory fan. I’ve handled several over the years.

Well, I’m not going to tromp on your family genealogy, but I think that your fan dates to the late 1890s to the early 1900s. That’s beside the point, as family legend always has a bearing on an object’s history.

In regard to the condition, its not your fault. It sounds like you’ve been doing the right things, but it’s kind of out of your control.

The beautiful organza fabric that it’s made from is sort of a ticking time bomb — in this case, it’s gone off.

You see, those clever Victorians loved fabric and different uses of fabric. To give this fan the stability that it needed, they coated the fabric in a mixture of chemicals, one being arsenic. Though beautiful, for likely decades, over time, those “finishes” actually break down or shatter the very fabric that they live on. Sadly, there is not much you can do about that. It would have happened no matter how you cared for it.

Now, the restoration part is equally tricky. Basically, you’re between a rock and a hard place. I know that your granddaughter would love to use this in her wedding. However, I think that she’d also like a new, flat screen TV that she and her husband could enjoy — because that is what it’s going to cost to have this fan professionally restored.

It’s going to cost many hundreds of dollars AND it likely won’t be completed for the August nuptials.

If a professional restoration is not to your liking, you could also frame the fan as it is. Thus preserving the original fabric and still being able to see and enjoy the fan.

You might try to find another fan for your granddaughter to use and carry. If you’re very crafty you might try to do a home restoration. I don’t recommend it though as it’s more difficult than you think. It rarely turns out successfully. I’ve seen them.

Sorry, I know these aren’t the answers you wanted to hear. Also she could just carry the fan and keep it closed. Of course you can use it at the wedding! Trust me, the ivory police aren’t going to crash the big event. I wouldn’t try to sell it on eBay, but you’re fine to use it for your own personal uses.

A value for an ivory fan in excellent condition, if such a thing exists, would have a retail value of about $150.00. Your fan? Its value in this condition is about $15. Thanks for a great question.