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Orchid Beauty Shoppe Hand Fan

Among the treasures on my desk is a hand fan. It is made of four pieces of sturdy brown paper, thicker than card stock, but thinner than cardboard, that taper at the bottom and are held together by a metal grommet. Each piece of the fan has a symmetrical scalloped edge and bold radiating lines at the bottom. The fan advertises a beauty salon called the Orchid Beauty Shoppe in Anderson, South Carolina. Purdue University has an entire website devoted to the history of the hand fan, and I learned that advertising fans were popular during the early 20th century before air conditioning was commonplace. 

I have never been to Anderson, South Carolina even though it’s only an hour-and-a-half away from where I live in Athens, Georgia. I have, however, lived in the south my whole life and seen all kinds of people fan themselves in the heat. There is something futile about fanning yourself: such a momentary whiff of relief while expending energy that only makes you hotter. This beauty shop fan also features a nature scene with water and shoals, white pine trees and snow capped mountains. You can almost feel the breeze coming over the mountains and off the water. I like the way this cooling scene tries to convince you that it’s not so damned hot.

This fan is from a time when the phone number of business could be three numbers (626). It is also from a beauty shop that offers Marcel waving and something called “PORO,” which is in all capital letters and in quotation marks on the fan. Marcel waving looks like a finger wave, but the waves were made with a curling iron. Marcel waves were popular in the 1920s and Josephine Baker’s hair is typical of the look. I found that interesting and wondered if my fan came from an African-American business. Research into Poro told me that it did. 

Annie Turnbo Malone, the daughter of escaped slaves, built a beauty empire in Illinois called Poro College that included a manufacturing plant and retail store for her hair products for Black people, a beauty college, a dormitory, a chapel, a bakery, and a gymnasium. By the 1920s, Malone was a multi-millionaire, and Poro College employed nearly 200 people in St. Louis. I think that deserves all caps and quotation marks. 

What happened to the Orchid Beauty Shoppe? The slogan on the fan reads “Here You Get A Very Personalized Service in Hairdressing,” which is what everyone wants. I tried to find references to the shop online, but with little success. I tried to find Church Street online and got confused. Finally, I looked up the historic Black business district in Anderson, South Carolina, and found that Church Street was a thriving center for Black businesses from 1900 until the 1980s when the buildings were torn down and the space was turned into a parking lot. 

It gets hot standing in the parking lot knowing it paved over history. Here’s a fan.


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