Vintage fans are a cool collectible

Vintage and retro-style fans are cool right now, and what’s fascinating is that their collectibility defies the laws of supply and demand.

A large generation of Baby Boomers and older are downsizing and selling their household items, including these old fans, and people of all ages, especially Millennials, are willing to pay top dollar for them.

It’s so popular that there’s an Antique Fan Collectors Association. More than 700 members work to preserve and promote all types of fans, ranging from water, air, electric or alcohol powered. The average fan collector has been collecting for 12 years and has 70 fans, according to its website

What does best at auction?

Hard-to-find fans made by Eck, Crocker Wheeler, Jandus Edison and Jost could command thousands of dollars at auction. More common fans, such as GE and Emerson can still command a good price even if they have not been restored and are in good condition.

This vintage Hunter Century metal fan recently sold at auction for $120. (Photo: Tim Nelson)
This vintage Hunter Century metal fan recently sold at auction for $120. (Photo: Tim Nelson)

If you’re in the market for a vintage fan, research what period the fan was manufactured in and start it up to see and hear how it works. Test to see if it operates on all of the speed levels and examine the base and blades for damage. And, place them out of reach of small children. Many fans from yesteryear didn’t have fan guards, and if they did, little fingers could squeeze through them.

My favorite fan dates back to 1890. It is a C&C Electric “Lamp Resistance Fan” that actually had a light bulb on the top of the fan that wasn’t even intended for lighting. It was designed to control the speed of the fan like a resistor, and it had no fan blade guard or electrical circuit covers. You could get shocked by touching the fan if not careful when moving it while plugged in. Even with all the trouble this fan could pose, it was a gorgeous fan that was well made and ahead of its time.

Erik Hoyer
Erik Hoyer

A fan like that in good condition could sell for tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, I have only seen one of these fans in person and it was not for sale or I might have mortgaged my home to buy it.

Do I think vintage fans will still be cool five years from now? Maybe.

There will always be the fanatics, like the Fargo 20-year-old whose collection totaled more than 500 fans last July. But, even just a few metal fans around your house can help give off that cool industrial chic vibe.

Erik Hoyer co-owns EJ’s Auction & Consignment in Glendale and J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale., or @EJs_Auction on Twitter.

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