Folding fans with lace leaves were popular in Europe and the United States from the early 18th to the early 20th century, and are now a specialist collecting field in their own right. Prior to the late 18th century all such fans were produced from hand-woven lace – either 'needlelace' or 'Bobbin' lace, with the best examples being woven from fine flaxen thread or silk, rather than coarser woollen or cotton yarns.
The leading centres of lace production were the Netherlands (Brussels, Mechlin and Antwerp); Italy (Venice, Genoa and Milan); France (Alencon, Argenton, Paris and Chantilly); England (Honiton); Spain; Portugal; and, in the United States, Ipswich, Massachusetts.
The high cost of making hand-woven lace ensured such fans were essentially the preserve of the wealthy. However, the introduction of cheaper machine-woven lace (commonly referred to as 'Swiss' or 'Nottingham' lace after the major centres of production) from the late 18th century onward provided a more affordable alternative for the less affluent.
Given the inherent delicacy of the fabric, 18th-century lace fans in good condition are relatively thin on the ground, and much sought-after. Not surprisingly, far more hand- and machine-woven lace fans have survived from the mid-19th century onward.