Advertising Fans: Popular Collectibles Feature Art by Tonnesen

Waiting for their Munsingwear
Picture 2 of 10

This fan was copyrighted by Munsingwear in 1926, although the photo by Tonnesen was taken much earlier, probably around 1917. The girls are (l.) Betty Crowe (1910-2008) and (r.) Virginia Waller (1913-2006). This sample fan was mailed to Munsingwear dealers, along with a calendar featuring the same image and the sales letter shown in the next slide. An original photo of the two girls is held in the Tonnesen Archive of the Oshkosh Public Museum.

In the days before air conditioning became commonplace, cardboard hand fans were often the best way to stay cool on a hot day. Decidedly useful, they were attractive and informative, as well. A lot has been written about the “calendar art” of the Golden Age of Illustration.  Here on our blog, we’ve been focusing on the period roughly between 1900 and 1930, and the role Beatrice Tonnesen played.  But it struck me recently that we have been so interested in presenting the art itself, that we’ve said little about the fact that what we call “calendar art” is really so much more.  Most of the publishers of the era produced a whole line of advertising items in addition to calendars.  Many of the paintings and photographs that were printed and offered to advertisers on calendars, were also available on blotters, trade cards and, perhaps most notably, on hand fans.

While calendars were probably most often mailed to the homes or businesses of a firm’s existing customers, hand fans, with an appealing picture on one side and the advertiser’s name and message on the other, were more often used to lure both new and existing customers into the advertiser’s establishment.  The intriguing book, Fans- Advertising & Souvenir, by Donald Bull and Rudolphe Roger (Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2012. offers several examples of the ways in which fans were used as advertising premiums.  They were offered free with a purchase, or free for just stopping in, or sometimes even as a contest, engaging the customer with games or drawings for prizes, as described in print on the fans.

These beautiful relics of a mostly bygone era are popular now with collectors of vintage illustration art, as well as with those who collect various types of advertising or historical memorabilia, perhaps from a hometown or state, or a long gone business establishment.  The accompanying slideshow includes samples of the materials used to market the fans, as well as the artwork and advertising on the fans themselves.  Not surprisingly, all of the fans I’ve chosen for display feature images that originated as photos by Beatrice Tonnesen, but the work of many more of the most prominent artists of the Golden Age of Illustration – R.A. Fox, L. Goddard, Zula Kenyon, Rolf Armstrong and Hy Hintermeister, to name only a few- can also be found on these beautiful collectibles. Scroll over the images in the slideshow for information on each.

Copyright 2013 Lois Emerson

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