Brief History of Antique Mirrors
I will keep this part brief and hopefully not too boring. But knowing the history of antique mirrors can be helpful in dating your antique mirrors or at least dating the mirrors you are considering for purchase.
The use of mirrors goes back to the Romans and the Middle Ages. Then a mirror was nothing more than a round piece of metal that was slightly convex and polished to reflect light. Before that, polished stones were used. Metal coated glass was used as mirrors as early as the first century. During the twelfth century the Venetians perfected the process of backing a piece of glass with a metallic material, usually tin and mercury. By the 16th century, Venice became the center of mirror production. But these were very expensive and considered a luxury for the wealthy. In 1835, Justus von Liebig discovered the chemical process of coating glass with metallic silver. This discovery led to the ability to start manufacturing of mirrors on a widespread basis. It also saw the end of using mercury, a dangerous metal, in the production of mirrors. Today we still say a mirror needs to be resilvered when it has lost the reflective material on the back.
Kinds of Antique Mirrors
You probably never stopped to think about the many different kinds of antique mirrors. A beautiful antique mirror can transform a room like nothing else. Some of the earliest antique mirrors were hand held mirrors. Ladies always have wanted to see themselves. There are so many sizes of antique mirrors that you can use in so many different ways.
Think of some of the magnificent large antique mirrors that set over large majestic fireplaces. These are sometimes called over mantle mirrors, since they are over the mantles. Many grand pieces of antique furniture would lose their appeal without the antique mirror that is an integral part of large antique sideboard or armoire.
I had a friend who said she would prefer to have a beautiful antique mirror instead of an antique painting because she could buy so much more in a mirror. She felt she could buy a top of the line antique mirror for a fraction of a top of the line antique painting.
A great designer can do so much with antique mirrors strategically placed in a home or business. They can even make rooms look larger through the reflections. They can be used to disperse light throughout a room.
Besides the beauty of antique mirrors, whose style and workmanship we can love and appreciate. Many antique mirrors also have many practical uses. A tri-fold antique dressing mirror sitting on an antique dressing table not only looks great, it allows the lady to be able to better apply makeup and fix her hair properly. Many men used to shave with antique shaving mirrors, sometimes part of an antique shaving stand. How nice it is to get dressed in front of a full length antique cheval mirror.
There are small antique (or vintage) mirrors that are just fun to collect and display because of their beauty. My wife used to collect antique hand mirrors and hang them on the wall. One of my favorites are the barbola mirrors from the 1920s. If you are not familiar with them, I have included a photo to show the beauty of these mirrors and their floral decorations. Groups of three or five of these mirrors in different sizes and shapes make a beautiful display. And the best thing about these is they are quite inexpensive. Here is a link to a barbola mirror presently for sale.
Once you become familiar with antique mirrors, you can tell their country of origin and the period they were made. The mirrors from France differ from those of England, and also Italy. Those three countries seem to have produced the most desired antique mirrors. The most highly desired antique mirrors were produced form about 1850 to 1900. Other people might love mirrors from different periods and other countries. But in my opinion the last half of the nineteenth century produced the most beautiful mirrors that most people could afford.
In the next article I will go into detail describing the different styles of antique mirrors from different countries. I will also give some hints on what to look for and maybe even some places where you can find good deals. Until the next time and the second article on antique mirrors, we appreciate your time.