Examine the design and style of the fan. The old table fan models have a few wires casing the blades but do not have safety screens over the blades. There are usually four blades, representing the style of era. Early 20th century fans had Art Deco styled rectangular blades with two or three wires forming the blade enclosure. The base was often black enamel coating over cast iron. By the 1940s, the fan blades were fatter and overlapping, creating more air movement and quieter operation.
Check the composition of the base and blades. Antique fans have a base of cast iron that keeps the fan from vibrating on the table or desk. Brass was the choice metal for the fan blades until the 1940s, when manufacturers such as Emerson Electric created aluminum and steel fans. The 1937 “Silver Swan” was an Emerson product made with a cast iron base, but the guard was steel and the blades were aluminum. The VornadoFan from O.A. Sutton Corporation was a midcentury modern design. This desk fan has Bakelite blades and stamped aluminum blade housing, making it safer than earlier models.
Lift a table fan to identify an antique. Antique fans are heavy. The motor is located in the housing behind the fan blades, and the motors of the era were made of heavy metal parts. The motor, in addition to the cast iron base, gave the vintage and antique table fans substantial weight.
Examine the brand name of the fan. General Electric was one of the makers of desk fans at the turn of the 20th century. Westinghouse and Emerson also made table fans for the American market. AEG was a German maker of early desk fans, with a few imported to the United States. Antique fans are marked, usually on the front and often in the center of the guard.