Today's object of the week is a mother-of-pearl fan which once belonged to a fashion icon.

THOUGH there are a number of fans in the collection at Preston Park Museum, this one in particular has an impressive provenance.

Dating to the late 1880s, the fan once belonged to Frances Cleveland, the wife of American President Grover Cleveland.

Read more: Stockton pistol’s link to French King Louis XIII is revealed

Aged just 21 when she married President Cleveland, she remains the youngest first lady in American history and the only one to have married and had children in the White House.

As her husband was the first and only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, she is also the only first lady to have served twice over 12 years.

The Northern Echo: Frances ClevelandFrances Cleveland

From almost the first day of her marriage she became a fashion icon, as women across America became desperate to copy her style.

Frances was so popular that when she chose to forgo the bustle that many women wore to support their skirts, it was only a matter of time before they stopped being worn.

This fan was used by Frances when she lived in the White House, accompanying her to several balls held during her husband’s presidency.

It was passed down to her daughter Esther, who married a British steel magnate in charge of the ironworks at Skinningrove.

When she married, Ester and her husband moved to Kirkleatham Old Hall – now Kirkleatham Museum – where they lived for about 20 years. The fan was donated to Preston Park Museum by Frances’ granddaughter.

The Northern Echo: Mother-of-pearl fan belonging to Frances Cleveland

Folding fans became incredibly popular once they were introduced to high society in the 1600s – and by the time the Victorians were using them in the 1800s, they were viewed as integral part of a woman’s outfit.

They were used to protect women’s faces from reddening in the heat of interior ballrooms, and to ensure that carefully applied makeup did not melt throughout the night.

They were so often used by women at balls that it became rumoured that women used these fans as ways of sending secret messages to admirers.

This was fuelled by several fan-makers who printed guides to flirting, and in several cases fans were made with the alphabet printed on the back.

Of course, it would have been difficult for any suitor to learn the intricacies of this secret language, and women were so highly scrutinised that if this were true they would risk sending outrageous messages to almost everyone they spoke to.

It is easy, however, to imagine this fan on the arm of the elegant Frances Cleveland as she hosted balls at the White House.

l The fan is on display at Preston Park Museum in Eaglescliffe. It is open Tuesday to Sunday (open Mondays during school and bank holidays), from 10am to 4pm (last admission 3.30pm).

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated Teesside Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or contact 01325 505054