Charles Dickens and the ‘exceedingly whimsical’ fans exhibition

Mealy’s auction includes exotic fans once reviewed by Charles Dickens

 

The Victorian novelist Charles Dickens was also a prolific – and wonderful – journalist. He was the founder, in 1859, and editor of a weekly magazine, All Year Round, for which he wrote numerous articles and which serialised two of his novels: A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

Dickens could, and did, write brilliantly about any subject. In 1870, not long before he died, he undertook an unusual assignment: a review of an exhibition of fans at London’s South Kensington Museum. He wryly observed: “There is something exceedingly whimsical about the idea of this exhibition of objects so entirely frivolous and wanting in seriousness, held in a solemn government institution, and under the sanction of the ‘Science and Art Department’ itself’.”

After looking around the gallery display he concluded: “It is as if a set of idle useless butterflies had somehow got temporary possession of a beehive, and were flaunting their lovely wings in defiance of its legitimate hard-working inhabitants. Alas! The poor ephemera will have but a short lease of the premises, and will, doubtless, soon be ejected to make way for other, and more businesslike, tenants!”

Spanish fan

One of the fans Dickens particularly noted was a Spanish fan decorated with photographic portraits of famous matadors and their exploits in the Madrid bullring. Amazingly, one of these fans, patented as “Los Toros”, has turned up at Mealy’s and will go under the hammer on Wednesday as lot 355 with an estimate of just €100 to €200.

It has been consigned by an Irish private collector and is one among rare and antique fans in the auction that include lot 86, a late 19th century “South American bird-feather fan” adorned with taxidermy of a hummingbird. The guide price for that lot is €50-€70.

Other collectibles in the auction include lot 267, a “steel suit of armour, ‘Renaissance’ style” (€1,800 to €2,500); lot 35, “a Gunter’s land-measuring chain, made circa 1880” (€400 to €700); and lot 505, an enamel advertising sign (probably 1930s) for Black Cat cigarettes (€800 to €1,200).

Lot 300 is a large Donegal carpet, estimated at €15,000 to €25,000 (see separate story, right).

Among the paintings, of note is lot 462, Two Monks in an Interior by German artist Otto Schwerdgeburth (1835-1866), estimated at €1,800 to €2,500.

In all, there are more than 600 lots in the sale and viewing begins in the saleroom at Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny from noon tomorrow.

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