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Ultimate Fan Support

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The world of collecting is far and wide, including everything from vintage cars to dolls, heirloom china to silver, and any number of antiques, such as furniture, fountain pens, and even fans -- the cool breeze kind.

Enter Tom Frampton, founder and president of Fanimation (10983 Bennett Parkway) in Zionsville, who got into manufacturing fans while he was still in high school. A one-time employee of the Casablanca Fan Company, he bought the department he was running at the store and began Fanimation in January 1984. Frampton started his business with antique fan reproduction and custom fan construction. He also began collecting on his own, an interest that has taken him worldwide in search of treasures to bring back home.

Fanimation is an international retailer of ceiling fans, and its wares have been widely seen in print and onscreen, but its crown jewel is the antique fan museum that became a part of the business in 2008. Originally housed by the Vornado Fan Company in Wichita, Kansas, the museum was on the verge of closing and its collection scattered to the winds. Vornado's new owners didn't care to continue supporting the museum, leading Frampton to step in and offer to house the fans in Zionsville. The hundreds of collectibles now occupy roughly 3,000 square feet of Fanimation's 60,000-square-foot store. An avid collector, Frampton has built upon the museum's works since 2009 and says, "There are more fans than there is space!"  

Fanimation is home to an incredible breadth of air-circulating devices. - COURTESY OF FANAMATION
  • Courtesy of Fanamation
  • Fanimation is home to an incredible breadth of air-circulating devices.

Where once the fans had been locked away behind glass, they're now out in the open as part of an expansion and initiative to make the museum more interactive. Visitors will be able to operate antique fans, many of which are manually powered. Frampton talks of the alcohol-, wire-, and battery-powered fans, and comments that "everyone who comes in is blown away at the diversity." Interested persons can visit the fan museum from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Other appointment times are available by calling (317) 733-4113.

Fanimation's renovation is underway with 25 percent of the work expected to be completed by next month when the Antique Fan Collectors Association (AFCA) rolls into town for Fan Fair, its annual convention. The AFCA boasts close to 700 members and will see about 125 enthusiasts visit Zionsville from July 17 to July 19 to tour the museum, attend sessions on fan restoration (including instruction on paint, wiring, and mechanical assembly/disassembly), and hear from collector restorers knowledgeable about the hundreds of fan manufacturers from which one can build a collection. Frampton notes that Fan Fair will draw fewer people than the six regional gatherings that take place throughout the year, simply because it's sometimes difficult for people to travel across the country, their interest in antique fans notwithstanding.

When asked about his travels to procure fans, Frampton speaks the words every collector knows well: "I enjoy the hunt for the next item," he says, before revealing he's been on the search for a particular fan for nine years. His travels take him to homes, businesses, factories, and sometimes online via eBay, although he admits "sometimes [that] takes the fun out of it." Searching online exposes site visitors to a lot of available fans quickly, but Frampton explains that sellers typically don't know what they have and amateurs aren't used to shipping fragile merchandise. Oftentimes, collectors will buy a fan and have a fellow member pick up the purchase so it can be packaged carefully before mailing. If the goal is receiving a fan in parts, as Frampton sometimes does for custom-made or steampunk pieces he calls "Frankenfans," purchasing from an unknown seller is likely less of an issue.

The museum's treasure trove of fans come from near and far, and it's always growing. Company President Tom Frampton hopes the Cuban embargo ends someday, so he can add latin relics to his collection.  - COURTESY OF FANAMATION
  • Courtesy of Fanamation
  • The museum's treasure trove of fans come from near and far, and it's always growing. Company President Tom Frampton hopes the Cuban embargo ends someday, so he can add latin relics to his collection.

With regard to his future trips, Frampton hopes to someday make it to Cuba -- "a prime spot to look for antiques" -- which has been under embargo with the United States since 1961. In a few years, the political climate might enable a museum-to-museum cultural exchange, something Frampton is clearly excited for. "Havana was a big mecca prior to Las Vegas," he says, explaining that Fidel Castro "booted out museums and hotels and antiques," which resulted in objet d'art and entertainment industries heading for Nevada. Frampton is always looking for new acquisitions and always talking to other collectors -- "a unique breed in themselves" -- and simply states, "You never have enough."

Learn more about Fanimation, its history, and the fan museum at http://www.fanimation.com/.

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