Wellesley Historical Society

5 Things You Need to Know about Esther Oldham

Friday, August 14, 2015

By Amanda Demma

1. Esther Oldham, the Wellesley Collector

Esther Oldham (1900-1984) was a Wellesley native and a collector of lace and fans. She was considered an expert among collectors throughout the world due to her vast knowledge about the art of fans and lace. 

2. Esther Loved Lace

The Wellesley Historical Society is home to the Esther Oldham Lace Collection.  Donating her entire lace collection to the Society, the number of pieces is well within the thousands. Inspired by her love of fans, Esther wanted to learn every detail there was about the fan industry including the lace that some fan leafs are made from. Immersing herself in the same way she learned about fans, Esther the insatiable collector, started a collection of lace and lace pillows! The collection also includes books and scrapbooks made by Esther Oldham that are filled with lace samples, photos and clippings about lace.  See image above.

3. Esther Oldham Was First and Foremost the “Fan Lady”

Nicknamed the “Fan Lady,” Esther was well known for her vast and valuable fan collection which included over one thousand fans. Her fan collection was considered one of the finest in the world, second only to the Victoria and Albert Collection in Great Britain.  She donated the majority of her collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in 1976, though many came to The Wellesley Historical Society too.

4. The Oldham’s Were a Collecting Family

Esther Oldham’s desire to start collecting was encouraged by her family as each member had their own personal collection. Her mother Anne had a fine collection of early American tin ware, her father Arthur had a collection of miniature carvings, and her sister Anne had a collection of pewter, making it only natural for Esther to start her own collection.

5. Esther Oldham Was a Teacher

Known for her passionate attitude towards the education of the art of fans and lace, Esther would often give lectures on the topic.  Esther was also a prominent member of The International Organization of Lace, better known in her time as International Old Lacers, an organization dedicated to the lace community and the education of the history of lace. 

This month's blog post is brought to you by Amanda Demma, Wellesley High School graduate, class of 2015, and Wellesley Historical Society summer assistant.  

History Mystery will return in September!



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