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The History of Mirrors

Silver and silver-mounted furniture has been a popular luxury since the 16th century at least. The earliest example of silver furniture in England is a suite of a table mirror and candlestands with the cypher of Charles II. They feature acanthus leaves and floral swags, with a presumed date of around 1665.

Humankind’s earliest mirrors were likely still pools of dark water, or perhaps water within a vessel that allowed it to be still and flat, creating a suitably accurate reflection. The earliest manufactured mirrors were made from polishing stone such as obsidian. Obsidian mirrors are dated as early as 6000 BC. Polished copper became the material of choice by 4000 BC Mesopotamia and also in Egypt from around 3000 BC. Ancient China and South American societies used polished bronze mirrors around 2000 BC.

Polished stone mirrors were difficult to keep accurate the larger the mirror got, and distortion was more common around the edges. For this reason, smaller hand mirrors were more common. All mirrors from this time were very poor reflectors of colour, and their images were largely dark.

Glass mirrors as we know them today were being crafted in China as early as 500 AD. These mirrors required coating metallic objects with silver-mercury amalgams.

Over time, mirrors became more ornate, becoming the elaborate antiques that are highly valued in today’s market. Hand mirrors maintain popularity, and antiques in good condition are sought after collectables.

The History of Mirrors
Mirror HistoryThe Central Intelligence Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Types of Mirror


Compact mirrors are not only convenient, they are also fashion statements. Dating from the early 1900s, compact mirrors have taken on many forms and styles and trends have changed. Initially produced in America, compact mirrors were a way for women to re-apply powder subtly in a time when makeup was not yet widely socially accepted. Jewellers such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co started making the earliest forms of clutch bags, often bejewelled, and perfect for carrying a compact along with a few other things.

Compacts were soon prevalent in much of society, with special examples even being used by covert operatives in the CIA. See this image of a modified compact containing coding on the mirror.

Hand Mirror

Hand mirrors predate the compact, having depictions including them as far back as the 1500s. Hand mirrors are for personal grooming use, and are not typically seen as fashion statements in the same way that compacts tend to follow trends. Hand mirrors have a history of being very ornate, with modern examples being more minimalistic, made of less valuable materials and used less than they have been historically. Today, ornate hand mirrors are not only collectable items, but also valued as art pieces. As they are stored laid flat, with the mirror facing downwards, the backs of hand mirrors are often highly stylised, featuring ornate patterns, or enamel images in some instances.

Andrew Campbell started trading in antiques during the 1970s. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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