Mirrors may be commonplace today, but when they were first created they were highly treasured and valued objects.
The first known mirrors date back to Turkey around 6000 years ago and were made from obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass. The Egyptians created mirrors from polished copper and other rare metals. The first instance of glass being used as mirrors appeared in the third century CE, however the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder described metal-coated glass mirrors in his book Natural History, written around 77 CE.
The Venetians became known for their production of mirrors during the Renaissance and this craft existed in France as well. The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles is one of the most renowned and incredible uses of mirrors to this day.
In England, mirrors tended to be made of polished steel throughout the Tudor era. Henry VIII was known to have owned a number of ‘glasses’ set in frames of wood and enriched with velvets and embroidered pearls, gold, and jewels. By the end of the 17th century, domestic production of glass mirrors increased and these luxurious items were highly prized in elaborate interior schemes. The mirrors were restricted in size due to the difficulty of creating the plates–for example, a pair of mirrors supplied to Charles II were described as ‘large,’ but they only measured 25 inches long. (Sometimes the small size was a good thing: Lady Clayton, wife of the Warden of Merton, acquired a mirror in 1674 but it did not show her full body but instead ‘her ugly face and body to the middle.’)
Given the expense of the mirror plates themselves, English craftsmen were eager to place these plates within extravagant frames, whether it be of lacquer, marquetry, giltwood, or other valuable material. As the technique for creating mirror plates evolved, the plates themselves became larger, which in turn allowed the craftsmen to create more elaborate and extravagant mirror frames.
We will explore particular types of mirrors, including overmantel mirrors, pier mirrors, and others, in future posts, but today we will leave you with a selection of the antique mirrors in our collection. Have a look through the Pinterest board and click on the individual mirrors to learn more.