the ages, hand fans have been everything from functional to
fashionable and from a form of art to a symbol of sanctity.
The earliest evidence of fans can be found in pictorial records
from approximately 3,000bc in China. There is also evidence
that Greeks and Romans used fans as cooling devices and in religious
ceremonies to keep insects away from sacrifices. Other ancient
cultures that had fans as a part of religion were China, Egypt,
Assyria and Phoenicia. Romans made fans from wood; in China
they used feathers; and Greeks stretched linen over a wooden
frame shaped as a leaf. These fans were all stationary and the
folding fan did not appear for hundreds of years.
The Japanese are credited with making the first folding hand
fan sometime during the 1600s. Many believe the idea for its
design originated from the folded wings of a bat. Bone, ivory
or mica was used to create the slats of the fan. Folding hand
fans spread from the East via the trade routes of Portugal to
the rest of Europe. Italian women were the first to carry fans
as a fashion accessory. These fans were made from calfskin and
leaves, cut into strips and woven together. By the 1700s, fashionable
fans had spread to France and England and wealthy women were
soon commissioning artists to design and paint their hand fans.
This is probably when the fan first became a symbol of the frailty
of women. In 1796, the invention of lithography (a printing
process) made fans cheaper and the trend soon spread throughout
society. Fans were now being decorated with events, maps, riddles
and art. A fan was the appropriate gift for a women to mark
any occasion in her life: a birthday, marriage, childbirth or
a death in the family.
The 1800s saw an increase in the popularity of hand fans. Faster
and cheaper production methods were patented and people became
very interested in fine art. There was no better way for a woman
to show her taste in fine art than to carry a fan painted and
signed by a prominent artist. Fans were made of painted lace,
silk or parchment, increasing the delicate look of the accessory.
Nineteenth-century women used their fans as a means of communication
with their admirers. A set code was developed and phrase books
were published to translate a lady's gestures. For example,
if a woman quickly fanned herself it meant "I love you", and
if she slowly fanned herself it meant "I don't care about you."
The changes in society during the 1900s reflected the changes
in the way hand fans were made and used. Fans began to don advertisements
instead of art. As they fought for their rights, women no longer
wanted to carry a symbol of frailty. Society was moving towards
modernity and electric fans blew away the once fashionable,
artistic and even sacred hand fan.
liquor absinthe is believed to have been created in 1792 by
Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor. Henry-Louis Pernod of Pontarlier
in France first commercially produced absinthe in 1797. The
name absinthe is derived from the Latin absinthium and from
the Greek apsinthion, both words meaning wormwood (Artemisia
absinthium), which is the drink's chief ingredient. Also made
with angelica root, aniseed, fennel, hyssop, licorice and star
aniseed, the liquor has a high alcohol content and a harsh taste.
Thujone, which is present in wormwood, is the chemical that
is responsible for the hallucinogenic effects of the liquor.
by Edgar Degas (1876).
Absinthe is highly aromatic and yellowish-green in color. When
mixed with water, the liquor changes to cloudy white. The drink
is often served with ice and water and used as a flavoring in
mixed drinks. The classic absinthe drink is served in a special
glass, where water is poured over a sugar cube on a slotted
spoon. The sweetened water then drips into a glass containing
The liquor enjoyed popularity in the 1800s. Absinthe, known
as the "Green Fairy", was muse to artists and madmen alike and
was sipped by many famous people. It is said that Vincent Van
Gogh cut off his ear while infused with absinthe. Oscar Wilde
wrote of absinthe that "After the first glass, you see things
as they are. After the second, you see things as they are not.
Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most
horrible thing in the world." The artist Henri de Toulouse Lautrec
apparently drank it to the point that he was placed in an asylum.
Several sensational murders were blamed on absinthe drinkers
while under the spell of the Green Fairy.
By the end of the century, absinthe had gained a poor reputation
due to its hallucinogenic properties. Absinthe was eventually
prohibited in the early 20th century in most countries, including
the US in 1912, due to its hallucinogenic effects.
Canada never officially banned absinthe, however, it could not
be purchased in the country until recently. Versinthe, now available
in Canada, has 1.5 parts thujone per million. The US, reversing
its earlier ban, has a version of the drink which has 3.5 parts
thujone per million. These versions are much weaker than the
absinthe available at the end of the 19th century, which had
about 2,000 parts thujone per million.
which occur whenever the moon is directly aligned with the sun
and the earth, happen with some frequency. Lunar eclipses (when
the moon passes through the shadow of the earth) happen several
times a year, and solar eclipses (when the moon blocks the light
of the sun) happen with some regularity.
The first recorded mention of an eclipse comes from ancient
China sometime around 2100bc. The Chinese believed eclipses
were caused by a dragon eating the sun, and that the dragon
had to be frightened away by making loud noises and shooting
arrows into the sky. On this occasion, goes the story, the royal
astronomers, Hsi and Ho, neglected their duties and failed to
warn the emperor of the upcoming eclipse, so the proper rituals
could not be observed. Although everything turned out alright,
the emperor had the astronomers beheaded just to be on the safe
Though most astronomers have understood the basic mechanics
of solar eclipses for quite some time, common people have been
less enlightened about the darkness. Describing the total solar
eclipse that occurred on the morning of 14 May 1230, medieval
historian Roger of Wendover wrote: "it became so dark that the
labourers, who had commenced their morning's work, were obliged
to leave it, and returned again to their beds to sleep; but
in about an hour's time, to the astonishment of many, the Sun
regained its usual brightness."
Christopher Columbus was able to exploit ignorance of eclipses
to his advantage during his early explorations of the New World.
In 1504, Columbus was having difficulties convincing the natives
of Jamaica to trade him food in exchange for European trinkets.
When he stumbled upon a copy of Johannes Muller's Calendarium
(1474) aboard his ship, he devised a plan to trick the Indians
into being more favorably inclined towards the trades he suggested.
Armed with the Calendarium's prediction of a lunar eclipse on
the evening on 29 February 1504, Columbus arranged a meeting
with the native chief for that evening. At the meeting, Columbus
announced that God would demonstrate his anger with the natives
by taking away the moon. Surely enough, shortly after Columbus
issued his warning, the moon began to be swallowed up by the
earth's shadow. The frightened natives pleaded with Columbus
to intervene with God on their behalf, and, upon securing his
crew a supply of food until they were able to leave the island,
Columbus obliged. The moon was returned later that evening.
Long before George Washington suffered with his false teeth,
people were looking for ways to replace their missing teeth.
As far back as 700bc, the Etruscans were making false teeth
from ivory and whale and hippopotamus bone fitted into gold
Later methods were not as sophisticated. In the 1500s, false
teeth carved from bone were tied to the remaining teeth with
silk. Often only the silk was tucked into the holes between
teeth. For those with no teeth, anchoring false teeth was next
Following the Battle of Waterloo, some dentists had the idea
to use teeth from the dead soldiers as a source of dentures
for the living. This method proved to be not only disgusting
but a failure because the teeth would rot and fall out of the
Fortunately for the toothless, French dentist Dubois de Chement
and pharmacist Duchateau invented a hard-baked, rot-proof set
of porcelain dentures in the late 1700s. Italian dentist Giusseppangelo
Fonzi created the single porcelain tooth on a pin and attached
to a metal plate in 1808.
Mass marketing of dentures began in the early 1800s. One of
the greatest improvements to dentures came in 1839 when Charles
Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber. This rubber was cheap and
flexible making the false gum fit the mouth properly. When less
painful tooth extraction became possible, the number of dentures
sold increased dramatically.
Dental innovations like putting fluoride in drinking water,
regular dental visits and improved dental hygiene reduced the
number of people needing dentures, though many people still
rely on this invention.
chairs have been used as a form of transportation for centuries.
A sedan chair is a chair surrounded by decorated walls or curtains
and supported by horizontal poles. Two or more people carry
the sedan chair by these poles.
The origins of the sedan chair are not certain but these early
vehicles were used in various cultures in the Far East and Europe.
Sedan chairs were also commonly used in ancient Egypt to carry
queens and pharaohs throughout the cities and villages.
In China, sedan chairs used by common people were called minjiao
meaning civil sedan. The rich used a sedan called a guanjiao,
which means official sedan. Both were constructed out of wood
or bamboo. The guanjiao for the rich was decorated with silk
curtains. Sedan chairs were also used for weddings. A bride
was carried to her wedding ceremony by a sedan chair otherwise
known as a jianyu, which means "shoulder carriage". Jianyu were
decorated in red, which is the traditional color for Chinese
weddings. The tradition of using sedan chairs in China began
with emperor Quinlong of the Qing Dynasty (1736-95). During
a tour through the countryside, the Emperor and his party met
with a bride and her wedding party proceeding to the ceremony.
A donkey carried the bride. The emperor offered his sedan chair
to the bride if she could recite a poem to him on the spot.
The bride promptly thought of a poem and the emperor was so
impressed he immediately handed over the sedan chair. In Korea,
both the bride and groom are carried to the ceremony in separate,
elaborately decorated sedan chairs.
In Europe, the sedan chair was popular in the 1600s and 1700s,
and its use spread from Italy to France, England and Scotland.
The chairs could easily be carried through the narrow streets
of many European cities. Sedan chairs for the wealthy were decorated,
carved and painted while those for the lower classes were of
a simple design.
By the mid-1600s, sedans for hire were a common mode of transportation.
In London, sedans were available for hire in 1634. Each sedan
was assigned a number and the driver had to have a license to
carry passengers. A similar system was later used in Scotland.
In 1738, a fare system was established for Scottish sedans.
A trip within a city cost six pence and a day's rental was four
shillings. A sedan was even used as an ambulance in Scotland's
Royal Infirmary. Sedan chairs were used by the wealthy in colonial
America. Benjamin Franklin used a sedan chair until late in
Sedan chairs had their problems. The ride was usually slow and
bumpy and the carriers would easily tire after a short journey.
The use of sedan chairs began to decline with the advent of
faster forms of transportation such as the rickshaw and bath
chair. These devices were similar to sedans but used wheels
and only one driver. However, sedans are still used for ceremonial
purposes throughout Asia.
This article originally appeared in our October/November