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Wedding presents for the future Queen Mary

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With King George V’s consort, Queen Mary (1867-1953) – a passionate ‘curator-manqué’, particularly of objects of historical interest – fans found their most enthusiastic royal collector, and their first cataloguer. Born Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, she was already known to be keenly interested in fans at the time of the announcement of her engagement to the Duke of York in 1893. Of the forty or so fans that she received as wedding presents, some were antiques ('Cupid and Psyche' and Dutch marriage fan), while others were newly made – in the United Kingdom (Irish lace fan and Honiton lace fan), in France (Point de gaze lace fan) or in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Capercaillie feather fan).

The fans presented were of a uniformly high quality. The beautiful painted fan on part-gilded ivory sticks was a gift from the Spanish ambassador, but is a superb example of the mid-eighteenth-century English fan-maker’s art. It is likely that many of these fans were used by the recipient: the fan depicting 'La Fontaine de Jouvence' was appropriately held by Queen Mary at the wedding of the donors’ son, Prince Ernest Augustus, in Berlin in 1913.

Among the contemporary examples, fans with painted leaves vied with others incorporating leaves made of lace or other materials recently introduced to fan-making – for instance the feathers of game birds (Capercaillie feather fan). The bride’s name or cipher was often applied to the guards. On the beautiful mother-of-pearl fan with Honiton lace leaf, the crowned monogram is instead worked into the design of the lace in the centre of the leaf.