Monday, May 2, 2011

What a Piece: Fans

Westinghouse Tesla Fan - 1897

With the warmer months coming up, it’s time to get a fan. Instead of getting a cheap plastic one at a local drug store, put out only a few extra bucks and get yourself not only a fan of obvious quality, but one that also serves as a piece of art - a classic piece. Some of the earliest vintage metal fans you come across are decorative pieces by design – made for the rich. Forty years after the invention of the electric fan, as technology got better, companies began making less expensive metal fans for use in the average home. By the ‘50s, so many manufacturers were making fans that some companies sold what is now referred to as “drug-store fans” – fans that were mass produced, and were lesser in quality.

Today, several names have stood the test of time – some very familiar. Westinghouse, General Electric (GE), Emerson, Robbins & Myers, Diehl, Dayton, and Vornado, among others. The early ones are heavy and louder, but they are beautiful pieces of machinery, engineering, and design. The Art Deco era fans are very collectible as well, not to mention quieter, and as defined by the period, they are fantastic to look at. Here’s a 1950 GE metal fan that I had my uncle Nye pick us up recently at an auction. It'll be on sale at the Junk and Howe store this week!

It’s not a rare fan by any means – it seems that I’ve seen similar models in a few antique stores and such – but I just can’t pass it up. It’s one of the essentials that made a real difference in the days before air conditioning. They were functional for so long, and with energy costs rising all the time, cutting back on the air conditioning may mean the fan retains its importance. And, it looks cool.

Here are a few pictures of fans that grabbed my eye, along with some vintage Emerson ads. Some of are from a fan enthusiast/collector website ( and some are from Etsy stores. All are worth checking out, along with the Antique Fan Collectors Association.

1906 Diehl Fan (photo by Steve Stephens @

1908 Westinghouse (photo by Steve Stephens @

1950s Vornado (LuccaBales @ Etsy)

Wagner Metal Fan (arksendeavors @ Etsy)

Dominion Metal Fan (reneecourt @ Etsy)

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