Fans could be made of ivory, paper, kid, Mother of Pearl, vellum, wood, tortoiseshell, silk, and bone. Styles of decoration included painting, etching, inlaying, punch-hole motifs, carving, jewels, printing and gilding. Chinese Brise fan 1720-30
Painting appears to have been the most common form of decoration, but any combination was acceptable, and the range of styles, subjects, and materials is vast.
Some of the most interesting fans in collections are those which tell of a specific event or story. Biblical and mythological subjects were popular, of course, but some dealt with political matters or current events. Take, for instance, the fan below, which is printed paper on wood and depicts the surrender of the Jacobite leaders after the battle of Culloden in 1746.
There is a Language of the Fan, a kind of secret code to movements made with the item, but this seems to have been a construction of the Victorian Era, and not in use during the eighteenth century. Lace, also,was not much used on fans in the Enlightenment, and is much more appropriate for later portrayals.
I close with some more beautiful fan pictures, and some sites for where to find more information and fans.
http://www.chenillesetpapillons.com/ (Click on Boutique and then Accessoires for fans)
http://www.ideco.com/fans2/ (A Cool Breeze- fashionable fans)
http://www.fan-museum.org/ (Greenwich Fan Museum)
http://www.handfanmuseum.org/ (The Hand Fan Museum, CA)