Antique electric fans and vintage fans can be a great find if you like to hit estate sales. There are some serious collectors out there. I learned this by accident when I was searching around the basement of a house where an estate sale had been going on all day. I wasn’t really expecting to find much, but in the corner, I saw an old fan sitting behind a cardboard box. The fan I found wasn’t one of the really old ones, it was one of the “jet turbine” models that was popular for a while. It grabbed my attention because my parents had owned one like it when I was little.
I bought that fan for just five dollars after testing to make sure that it worked. Although I was fond of it and it brought back a lot of memories, I reminded myself that I was buying things to try to make some money, cleaned it up and listed it. I didn’t know a whole lot about fans so I included a lot of photos (that’s a good tip for any sellers out there) and the winning bidder bought it for about $25. What got my attention at the time was that they paid more than that to ship it across the country, but I guess they liked it and I think they did get a pretty good final price on the fan itself compared to some similar models that I saw selling.
Since I had done OK with that fan, I started looking for fans any time I went out. I quickly learned that not all old fans are created equal in the eyes of collectors. I found some old fans that worked great that I would estimate were from the 1950s or so, but I ran them through two auctions without a single bid even though I was asking less than ten dollars each! Later on, I found a really good site for learning about fans that you can check out here. It is an antique fan collector’s site and it is filled with more information about fans than you could ever want to know (unless you are an antique fan collector!).
Antique Fan Video
I was doing a little bit of digging, and I found this neat little video put out by the Antique Fan Collectors Association. It shows off some beautiful old fans that still look amazing! You can find their website at fancollectors.org
I still haven’t figured out all of the ins and outs of what makes one fan worth more than another even though they are from the same time period. In general, it seems that the older the fan is, the more valuable, but I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule. I was looking at the fans listed recently that sold for the most, and the best seller was one that used a lightbulb for resistance (I learned about that at the site above by the way). It doesn’t even really look like a fan by today’s standards because what sold was actually the original electric motor that powered the fan. It sold for close to $5000. The lesson for potential sellers is that if you find something that you know is really old, you should at least check it out for resale value. As an estate sale item, that would have been an unbelievable bargain for $500 and I doubt that most people would have even known what it was.
Back in their early days, electric fans were actually a luxury item. Not everyone owned one. As proof of what a different time it was, the metal cages were added eventually to protect the valuable brass blades of the fan, not to keep fingers out.
As you look at the old fans, you can definitely see the changes in style over the years. Keep this in mind if you go out hunting for estate sale items. Some fan collectors are not interested in just the age. There are people who might want to buy just because a fan includes bakelite in the construction. Others might be looking for art deco styles or “modern” looking styles from the fifties like the original one I found with the “jet turbine” styling. These jet turbine fans are actually quite popular. I passed on buying a large one of these mounted on a stand at a church flea market once. They want ten dollars for it, but I didn’t have room to haul it that day. Checking just now, I see that the identical model recently sold for $156! Live and learn.
If you are buying, ask to see the fan in action. Some eBay sellers will include video to show that items with moving parts are working properly and most sellers that you deal with in person are willing to point you to the nearest outlet. Just make sure that the cord is in good shape before you plug it in. Many of the older items that run on electricity have cords attached that have worn through over the years. Don’t plug those in and don’t stick your fingers in the blades either! 😉