By Ashley Montevago
This week’s object is a Queen Anne style mirror from the mid-18th century made of dark tiger maple wood. There is a gilded design at the top. This mirror may have been in the home of a wealthy individual considering mirrors were a luxury item during the 18th century. The detailed wood work also leads to the belief this mirror could have been quite expensive.
The earliest mirrors date to 6000 BC, made from polished stones in Anatolia, which is modern day Turkey.1 It is believed that people originally used to look at their reflections in water such as rivers and streams; even in ancient times people were concerned with the way they looked. We see the appearance of mirrors in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China; each civilization had their own way or creating reflective surfaces.
Each civilization had a different method of creating mirrors. For example, Ancient Egyptians used polished copper and often embellished them with ornamentation. Mesopotamia polished stone. Ancient China used a “speculum metal that could be highly polished to a reflective surface as well as mirrors made of polished bronze. Metal alloys or precious metals mirrors were very valuable items in ancient times only affordable to nobility.” 2
Mirrors were still being made past ancient times and the material and processes used to make them varied. The invention of glass blowing added to the popularity of mirrors; “the Romans invented a method for creating mirrors by coating blown glass with molten lead.” 3 The superstition surrounding mirrors such as breaking one will give you seven years of bad luck comes from an old Roman legend; they felt the soul was associated with mirrors because “the soul which shatters with the broken mirror regenerates every seven years.” 4
Still mirrors were highly prized items and were not widely available to the public since the materials used were often expensive. Also the transportation of such a fragile item added to the high cost of mirrors. It was not until the nineteenth century that mirrors became accessible to more people and not just the wealthy families who could afford them. German chemist Justus von Liebig created the first modern mirror in 1835 by applying a layer of metallic silver to the back of a pane of glass through the chemical reduction of silver nature. His process led the way from mirrors being a high luxury item to a highly affordable item.5
We have many different types of mirrors in our collection at Historic Huguenot Street. Many are displayed hanging on the walls of our historic houses. I choose the Queen Anne mirror because of the intricate wood work that reminded me how special the objects in our collection are. A skilled craftsman took the time to make such an amazing piece that sparked my interest in the history of mirrors. I would have never guessed they dated all the way back to 6000 BC and was pleasantly surprised to learn many ancient civilizations had their own variations. I am currently taking a history class at SUNY New Paltz called Ancient World with Dr. Andrea Gatzke and find it interesting that the cultures we have been focusing on popped up in my research.
1 “History of Mirrors.” Mirror History. Mirror History, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
4 “Mirror Myth, Legends and Facts.” Mirror History. Mirror History, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
5 “The Inventor of Mirror.” Mirror History. Mirror History, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.