J.P. has a framed embroidered silk-on-paper lady's fan depicting an elegant couple seated in a horse-drawn Regency-era cabriolet, circa 1820. I couldn’t find any similar fans so I resorted to a stylistic analysis to pinpoint a date of creation. One of those features is that cabriolet.
The two-wheeled cabriolet was designed to be driven by a gentleman himself, unheard of in society previously. The traveling chariot of 1815 was used by gentlemen of substance; had ample room for a driver, other servants and footmen; rode on four or six wheels; and had folding side panels to avert the common man's gaze. These were a statement of rank.
However, this intimate carriage of the English Regency, a curricle, offered a fun experience and public seat for two, with a back. A small platform at the rear served as a perch for a "tiger," the groom, who would leap down and hold the horses.
Notice the cabriolet supports only one horse and the carriage itself is low. These sporty carriages were designed especially for the new Regency gentleman, who publicly courted the Regency ladies. In fact, the lady here has her arm around the gent's waist; he holds his own whip aloft and the reins in the other. Very suggestive!
The other stylistic feature that indicates a Regency origin is the gentleman's black hat and simple high-necked jacket. For the first time in two centuries, men's fashion experienced an abrupt change from 1800-1820, away from the "male as peacock" flamboyancy. Gone were the rich fabrics, the flashy colors with embroidery, the figured gold or silver thread vests, the high heels worn with short breeches and silk stockings. Not to mention the powdered wigs! In came the Romantic era.
The gentleman of today, in fact, might feel comfortable in the fashions of the 1820s, with wool cutaway top coats, long pants and neckties. And a hat, always a hat — men's hats continued as part of the wardrobe into the 1960s.
The male figure on J.P.'s fan wears a black felt top hat with an upswept brim, a "cahill." I cannot think of a man who would not look fine in such a dashing hat. Men's formal wear and business attire of today trace their roots to this era; add to that the influence of the French Revolution of the common man and the English trend for the hunt, and we get the best period for men's clothes ever. Long trousers, with an equestrian flair, and showy fit, with boots, made for the perfect Jane Austen lover, in sober form-fitting square shoulders. Long, flowing, natural coupe sauvage hair completed the picture.
Thus, I can date J.P.'s fan to the English Regency period of 1820; I see no reason to date it to the Regency revival of the late Victorian era because it has none of the sickly sweetness about it of that period. Its slightly primitive images make it very early. This is the period when a handsome man drove his own carriage, could handle his own horse, and looked great while doing it in skintight drop-front pantaloons and those boots, not to mention cut-to-the-waist tailcoats undergirded by a tailored waistcoat with a high lapel. Finished off, of course, with a rakish hat atop a romantic white neckerchief. The stuff of dreams, and the envy of many designers of men's clothing.
J.P., your fan is missing its sticks, which could have been ivory, and is missing its distinctive carved guard that was flourished when a lady closed her fan. But someone loved this piece nonetheless, and, respectful of its 200 years, framed and glazed it.
Note the fine sequins that pick out the line of the couple, the carriage and the trees in the park. Those are not today's sequins, which are made of plastic. Those are real bits of fine metal. The word sequin comes from the word for coin of the 13th century. These 1820 sequins were made to impress the viewer when flashed, to light up the lady's face, impressing the viewer as it's the "stuff of money." This fan was certainly understood in the 1820s as a status symbol, and when used by a lady, broadcasted her forward-thinking attitudes about the opposite sex.
Since Regency styles are a niche collector's market (think of all those Jane Austen groupies), J.P.'s fan is worth $600.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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