Craftsman sees beyond rusted metal

Published: 07/03/2009 05:00



One local artisan has turned the chance sale of a nearly century-old fan into a career of collecting and restoring antique fans from all over the world.

Tran Cong Phuc restores a unique fan.

One local artisan has turned the chance sale of a nearly century-old fan into a career of collecting and restoring antique fans from all over the world.

Wearing the glasses of an old man, smoking a cigarette, Tran Cong Phuc walks around with rusty pieces of iron. People often think that he is a scrap-iron dealer, but he is actually a craftsman skilled at making old fans whir again.

Phuc’s shop in Ha Noi’s Old Quarter is piled with rusty heaps of metal – fan blades, guard grids, covers and motor parts – which he bought from scrap-iron dealers. No, you’re not looking at a scrap metal shop: Phuc spends his life collecting and carefully restoring old fans until they work as well as the day they were made.

Phuc is 69 years old but he looks younger and stronger than his age. “I expect that I will work with the scrap-iron heap until I am dead and gone. I hope people will never forget the unique fans, not only for their aesthetic value but also for their historical value,” he said.

Phuc worked for the Train Engine Factory in Gia Lam District for 15 years before devoting his life to fans. He was a pressure welder and also a literature student at the Social Sciences and Humanities University.

He made extra money on the side by spending his evenings repairing electric fans and transformers. He retired from the factory in 1992, and has been repairing fans ever since.

Phuc fell into the trade almost by accident. A neighbour sold him a Marelli ceiling fan, which was more than 80 years old and originated from the French colonial period. When its mechanics, vanes and foundation failed he restored it to its former glory and sold it to an English tourist. Phuc said at that time, in the early 90s, it value was the around the same as a tael of gold.

A thought flashed through Phuc’s mind at that first high-priced sale for an old fan. He decided he would find old fans to refurbish and sell.

At first, he recovered old fans simply to earn money; after awhile it became his passion.

He typically finds the unique fans from elderly people who have been hanging on to them for decades, and also from junk collectors. “They like selling to me because I give them a much better price than they would get if they sold it as scrap metal,” Phuc said.

His wife and children have suffered from some discomfort for his craft. At one time Phuc used a small 25sq.m house as a workshop and as living space with his family. For some time, they lived with the presence and smell of rusty iron in their daily lives. But to support the education and livelihood of the children, they accepted circumstance. Phuc now lives in a three-storey house, with one floor dedicated to restoring his old fans.

Unique antique: Phuc shows one of his oldest fans, which is over 100 years old.

When Phuc began the business he could pick up old fans for VND100,000 (US$6) each – but now he has to pay anywhere between $200-400.

The unique fans Phuc finds in Viet Nam today originally came here from all over the world – England, France, Holland, Italy and China. Restoration is a painstaking process that involves new electrical wiring, changing the cogwheels and ball bearings, repainting the blades and cleaning the guard. Since the fans are so old, nearly all the spare parts have to be specially made.

Through the careful work of Phuc’s hands, piles of scrap iron become miracles. Classical fans are re-born one after the other. All of the fans he has restored have a classical and lavish appearance.

Phuc said “I don’t remember how many classical fans I have restored. I have never passed up the chance to restore any fan.”

His store is full of Marelli fans between 70-100 years old. According to Phuc, he owns some of the oldest fans (115 years) in the world, created at the time humans harnessed electricity for power.

Phuc’s oldest fans are hung on his living room ceiling. Guests at his house can enjoy a cup of tea while contemplating them. Phuc doesn’t sell them because, from his perspective, they are true treasures.

Original fans gave off strong wind but had very natural features, says Phuc. They didn’t whir deeply like more modern fans. They had beautiful designs, patterns, and gentle and fine curved lines.

“Old fans are not only useful, they are now fashionable too, and complement interior design that uses wood. I am glad to be doing a job that fulfils my passion, gives me stability in my life and, most importantly, preserves old artefacts.”

Phuc is proud of the fact that he has recently sold fans to some of Ha Noi’s consulates and embassies, including Swiss, the Netherlands, German and French, as well as to foreign citizens living in Viet Nam. He has also sold many fans to Vietnamese businessmen, architects and lawyers. They indulge themselves with the purchase of classical fans. Including old fans in home decorations has become a hobby of many people.

Phuc loves his old fans like his children. He believes that every fan has its history. It also has its destiny. It finds its soul when it re-enters modern society, which has become saturated with convenient appliances.

Phuc remains diligent, with an unending passion, every day with the refurbishment of unique fans in his Ta Hien Street house. He hopes that people will never forget them.


Provide by Vietnam Travel

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