|By Robert Annis
For fans of … well, fans, it’s time to blow into Zionsville, Ind.
The 60,000 square foot Fanimation world headquarters houses the latest and greatest ceiling fans baring the company name. Thousands of shrink-wrapped boxes of new fans are stacked atop pallets waiting to get shipped to home-improvement and lighting shops across the nation.
But on the other end of the facility stands a testament to those fans’ forefathers. The Antique Fan Museum holds more than 500 fans from around the globe, some nearly 200 years old. Fanimation founder Tom Frampton said about 95 percent of the fans in the collection have been restored, either by him or another expert.
“Some guys look for the best unrestored fans,” Frampton said. “I prefer ones that are more rare or original. … I like fans with stories.”
On average, a few dozen people visit the museum each month – mostly church and home-school groups, but also quite a few members of the Antique Fan Collectors Assoc. Frampton said the road-tripping collectors will often swing by on their way to their destination to spend an hour or two circulating around the dozen or so freestanding display shelves.
Suspended from the ceiling are several belt-driven fans that were powered by running water, the same way old saw mills were at the turn of the 20th century.
As the rudimentary technology advanced, fans began moving from the factories to hotels and other refined spaces, becoming more ornate. One of the highlights of the collection is an ornate floor fan Frampton picked up in a former mining town bordello.
It’s obvious Frampton takes pride in the collection. He beams when he walks by what might his favorite pieces, a pair of fans taken from an African passenger train.
“I found these in an old Nairobi sleeper car,” Frampton said. “These might be two of the last 14 still in existence.”
One of the fans was missing its base, so Frampton paid to have it faithfully recreated; the two are nearly identical now. He estimates their value at about $2,000 each.
Nearby are fans taken from an American battleship. A few shelves over is a fan from a Soviet tank – the blades are leather to prevent possible mishaps in such a tight space. The museum also holds an ornate glass and metal fan once owned by the late actor Jack Palance, as well as a fan used as a prop in the old Perry Mason television show.
Some of the earliest desktop fans began appearing before electricity was run off the grid. Some, like the British Kyko, were run by lamp oil or kerosene, others by homemade batteries. Pointing to a fan dating to the late 1800s, Frampton said owners had to mix their own chemicals to power the fans. Fans from the early days of electricity were cast-iron and brass works of art, Frampton said.
“You see pinstriping and little details on a lot of them,” Frampton said. “They didn’t need to, but it just added to the aesthetic appeal.”
As electricity became more commonplace, so did fans. Many of the features, such as the brass blades, disappeared because of cost. That’s when many familiar names like Emerson and General Electric began manufacturing fans. Emerson’s Silver Swan was the first attempt at serious design, and is probably the most famous classic oscillating desk fan.
Frampton and his son, Nathan, probably won’t let visitors take home anything from their collection, but Frampton did offer advice on starting a collection.
“Join the fan club,” he said. “The forums are full of good advice and background info. These people are passionate about their fans.”
Folks will often buy, sell and trade fans on the forum – found at www.fancollectors.org – but interesting deals can also be found on eBay.
Shoppers can find a $25 oscillator in nearly any antique store, but a search is necessary for more interesting finds such as the coin-operated fans that were once used in hotels. Ten cents would buy two hours of cool air in the 1950s; but now, that same fan will cost about $600, depending on condition.
Expect to pay into the thousands of dollars for major, rare pieces.