What to know when buying antique mirror

The mirror holds a vaunted position in our lives should come as no surprise. Mankind has been fascinated by reflection of self for millennia. In fact, mirrors have been an important theme in history and literature – even Narcissus was transfixed by his reflected image in a pond. But it wasn’t until the Renaissance that quality mirrors were made. We owe the creation of the modern mirror to the Venetians who perfected glass and metal mirrors in the 16th-century.

Today, mirrors are an established focal point for the home. Whether it’s a tall, rectangular mirror by the front door, so you can take one last look at yourself before heading out into the world, or an oval mirror over the fireplace, whose placement can give the illusion of more space in a confined area, mirrors are an essential home furnishing. Here are a few things you should know before you buy an antique mirror:

Mirror Glass
Original mirror plate adds greatly to a mirror’s value. However, be cautious if the lead backing of the mirror has compromised the mirror plate to such a degree that it diminishes its reflective quality. In that event, even though it is original the valuation will be reduced. Over time, the reflective silver mercury found on the back of antique mirror glass often corrodes due to oxidization. When this happens the mirror will appear cloudy in spots. The color of the mirror glass also reflects the age of the mirror; the older mirror glass is the more the color will appear yellow or grey.

Frame
Don’t be put off if the frame of your antique mirror has imperfections. A degree of wear and tear should be expected, but as long as the mirror has been well treated the value won’t be substantially affected. Actually, antique mirror frames, most likely to be made from durable woods such as oak, mahogany or walnut, can yield great value in their own right. They may even feature rare wood veneers or be made from copper, brass or other metals.

Enhancements
There are a number of features that will enhance the value and beauty of antique mirrors. Mirrors embellished with gilding, if original, are quite valuable. Other features that enhance a mirror’s value include carving – note that the carving on an 18th C mirror will be crisper than that of a 19th C mirror. A beveled edge is also a lovely feature and deemed very attractive, as is the original ball and chains found on the back of convex mirrors. These elements all add to the value and originality of a mirror.

Age
Look at the back of your mirror to access the age of your antique mirror. Traditionally, antique mirrors will have a wood backing rather than a paper backing. The nails, hangers and screws used will also be indicative of the age of your antique mirror. Modern mirrors generally present more uniformed, machine made construction.  The back of the mirror may also feature the makers name and origin of manufacture, which will be useful to determine its age.

Means of Manufactory
A 16th or 17th century mirror, especially one that is particularly large, would most likely have been made in two or three sections. This construction does not affect its valuation, as that method was the only means of production at the time and typical of mirrors of that period.