An Introduction to Antique Mirrors
Pioneer Glass offers standard and custom antiqued mirror glass. This blog is an introduction to the concept of antique mirrors.
Antique mirrors are those dating from a previous era that are considered collectable or valuable. There is no specific time period that defines what is antique, but generally the cutoff is 100 years old. These mirrors can also be referred to as vintage mirrors or collectable mirrors… but those terms are not quite the same as antique mirrors. Vintage mirrors are newer than antiques and date to the 20th century, while collectables are valued by collectors – and these type of mirrors don’t necessarily have to be old.
What makes a mirror antique besides the age? They tend to have beautifully ornate frames and a distinctive character to them. They also tend to have silver backing while modern mirrors are aluminum backed.
Over the last few centuries, mirrors have become one of the most important parts of a home. They are essential furnishings and often create focal points. And people get plenty of use out of mirrors – a British study in 2015 showed men checking their appearance in a mirror an average of 23 times a day and women 16 times. Perhaps some of us will be surprised that men look in mirrors more often than women, but we at Pioneer Glass realize that men often have to look themselves in the mirror and say “what have I done” when they get in trouble with their spouse!
What else makes an antique mirror?
- Modern sheet glass is free of bubbling and is smooth. Manufacturing techniques in present day are able to pull this off in a way previous techniques could not.
- The reflective coating used on the back of the glass is what turns a piece of glass into a mirror. The materials used here have changed over the years. In the 16th century, mercury was spread over a layer of tin with glass placed atop it. As time went on, old mercury mirrors aged to create a sparkly effect.
- The mirror coating on the back of an antique mirror tends to oxidize or tarnish over time, whether made with tin and mercury or a thin sheet of silver. Dark or blotchy spots become visible through the glass, defining it as an antique.
- The frame can also indicate the status of an antique mirror. Are there signs of wear? Is a carved frame chipped? Is the back of the imrror attached with something other than modern Phillips-head screws? What does the maker’s tag or mark on the back, if any, say?
There are many different types of antique mirrors. Thanks to LoveAntiques.com, here is a breakdown:
Gothic Mirrors relate to the 12th – 16th Century and are sometimes known as Medieval Gothic, revival in 19th century is also known as Victorian Gothic. Common stylistic characteristics include pointed arches at the top, typically dark wood frames and ornate carving.
Baroque Mirrors are from the 17th century and common characteristics include an oval shaped style, frames typically made from Oak or Walnut, frames often gilded with gold and silver and less ornate carvings than the Gothic style.
The Rococo styled mirror arrived in the early to mid 18thC. The style was a rectangular or oval shape with a flat base, gilded gold and carvings at the top of the frames, which were often walnut or mahogany with the carvings often of flowers.
Georgian (1714 – 1837)
Georgian styled mirrors are often rectangular shaped with emphasized symmetry and a paler style colour compared to earlier models of mirrors.
Regency (1811 – 1820)
The Regency period led to mirrors designed with oval shapes and narrow frames. Mahogany food frames were preferred, as were gold gilded. Elaborate carvings with typically floral design or leaf motifs were often applied.
Victorian (1837 – 1901)
Victorian Mirrors consisted of contrasting designs, mirrors were either dark wood or white with ornate and heavy designs with inspiration often taken from Gothic inspired forms.
Edwardian (1901- 1910)
The Edwardian style mirrors from the early 20thC were characterized by a delicate style and similarly delicate colours. The style drew upon different elements and characteristics of earlier styles from past eras.
Art Nouveau (1890 – 1910)
The characteristics of Mirrors from the Art Nouveau period include sinuous lines, swirling designs and nature inspired motifs. Pewter frames were common, as were black lacquered frames. Stained glass was often used to add a delicate finish to the Art Nouveau variety of mirrors.