Delicate, intricately decorated fans are a joy to hold and make a wonderful gift

In Jane Austen’s day no respectable woman would be seen at an evening engagement without her fan. An essential fashion accessory, it both kept her cool and, importantly, was a subtle way of communicating with suitors. ‘The top French fan manufacturer Duvelleroy even published a list of gestures and their meanings,’ says Jane Brown of Seldom Seen Antiques. ‘A half-open fan placed on the lips meant “you may kiss me”, while fanning oneself slowly gave the message “I’m already married”!’ Then, as now, fans varied hugely in price from affordable colourful paper models to exquisite gilded and hand-painted examples, the most costly of which were signed by the artist.

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