In other countries, other times, fans were as popular as in Japan. In the late 18th century, words and music of songs, card-game instructions, theater plans, wild flowers and maps were printed on fans.

At the end of the 19th century, fans were autographed by famous people in Europe. In South America they were made, shamefully with a real hummingbird in the middle. A domino fan with eye holes served as a mask. Lace, needlepoint, feathers, silk, and wood were also used for fans.

Church fans, which began in England in the 1720s, spread quickly to the United States. They were especially popular in the South, often supplied by funeral parlors who printed their advertisements on them. In the United States. They were often used in political campaigns, with pictures of the prospective candidates, such as Lincoln, and slogans.

In "The Book of Fans" (Mayflower Books, Inc.; $12.50), Nancy Armstrong traces the history of fans, tells how to buy and collect fans, suggests some prices -- the church fans apparently bring as much as $40 now -- prints many, many pages of excellent color photographs of fans and finishes it all up with a useful chapter on the repair of fans.

The word fan, Armstrong points out, comes form vannus, an instrument for winnowing grain, and probably cooling the winnower. From ancient days, fans were used to shoo flies. In Africa, the paramount chiefs still use ceremonial fly-whisks of feathers or animal hair. In Egypt, huge ceremonial fans were important. King Tut had two with gold mounts and ostrich feathers. f

Armstrong thinks the fan come to Europe from China and Japan in the 15th century, brought by Portuguese sailors. The author theorizes that women in Europe gave up on fans when they took up cocktail parties and ran out of hands. Now fans are being collected, rising in price, Armstrong says, "faster than almost anything in the antiques world."