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The New Caricature Dance Fan – £1300 at Tennants.

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In society circles they were tools to display status, a form of communication (through more than 20 studied poses and gestures) and aids to parlour and party games.

Fashionable in European courts from the 18th century was the game ‘Fanology’ or ‘Speaking fan’. Some were printed with questions and answers on either side or gave the nervous debutant examples of suitable topics of conversation or behaviour.

Conversation pieces

A number of these ‘conversation fans’ formed part of a major European collection that provided the core of the 234-lot Fans and Fancies auction at Tennants (24% buyer’s premium) in Leyburn on May 27.

Sold at £950 against an estimate of £180-250 was the Fascinating Conversation Fan, dated 1891. Displaying a vast amount of notation, including quotes from Dante, Raphael, Condor, Milton, Ruskin, Chaucer, and Coleridge amongst others, it also suggested number games.

On the same theme was The New Paris Conversation Fan for 1802: a small Regency paper fan printed to the recto with questions to the left and answers to the right, in both French and English. It also sold well at £550.

The top lot of the sale was the New Caricature Dance Fan for 1799. This slender bone fan was printed with popular musical scores to include The Duke of York at Valenciennes, The Royal meeting, Trip to Dunkirk and Brighton Review. Under each score, in tiny script, were instructions on how to perform the dance. It realised £1300 against an estimate of £300-500 in this North Yorshire auction.