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George Bickham the Younger, ‘I fan am like unto a Beau…‘, c.1750

The chances are that if you come across a paper fan today it will probably be glued to the wall of a dodgy Japanese restaurant and decorated with a motif that primarily consists of spilled beer and half-digested wasabi. However, the fan was an essential fashion accessory for any well-dressed English lady appearing in public during the eighteenth century and the demand for fans decorated with printed designs was sufficient to support a substantial manufacturing and retail trade in London and the large cities of the British provinces.

By the middle of the century decorated fans had become a thoroughly integrated part of Georgian London’s wider graphic culture and leaves carrying new designs could be obtained from any number of the city’s printsellers, stationers and printers, as well as from specialist dealers such as Sudlow’s Fan Warehouse in the Strand or George Wilson’s shop in St Martin’s Lane. Some traders even specialised in producing particular types of design, for example Martha Gamble’s shop in St Martin’s Court is known to have dealt in political and satirical themes and she was responsible for transposing plates from Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress and A Modern Midnight Conversation onto fan leaves.

The fan shown here was produced by the prolific satirical engraver and publisher George Bickham the Younger sometime around 1750. It consists of three separate cartouches each containing an image that aimed both to amuse and to impart a rather halfhearted moral message about the standards of behaviour that were expected of respectable young ladies.

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The image on the left shows a young couple cavorting in a hedgerow, whilst a second young women walks past on the right and peers at them over the top of her fan. The verse underneath reads:

Would you see and not be seen, Make your fan your friendly screan [sic], Curiosity with Prudence mix, And wisely peep between ye Sticks

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The central panel contains a scene showing a young woman studiously ignoring a male suitor who appears to have eventually thrown in the towel and opted to head off for a night of reputation-destroying passion with her less attractive friend. The accompanying text reads:

I Fan am like unto a Beau, I Spread and flatter too and fro, As he is us’d in so am I, I’m played with all & then thrown by

fan3The final panel on the right shows a wealthy suitor showering his intended with gold. You’ll also notice that the bottom right hand corner of the image contains the words ‘Bickham Junr Invt’. Some of the text is slightly worn in this example but from what I can make out it reads:

If a man of wealth(?) should love me, With a better will repair me, But when Preferments (?) provide lovers (?), Ladies always are the losers   

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