By | April 16, 2020
antique mirrors

Amidst all the minimalist, uber-modern, ‘I want that new-new’ frenzy has also emerged a new trend, an appreciation for all things antique and vintage. Sturdy, long-lasting things with history are catching more and more attention, even among the younger generations. Whether you’re looking to add a bit of story and personality into your decor or just find yourself intrigued by the antique, mirrors are a great place to start, so here are 5 basic things you need to know about antique mirrors. 

What is an antique mirror  

Anything considered to be antique is generally a minimum of 100 years of age. Vintage is generally considered to be between 50 and 100 years of age. Mirrors date back to the 1600s, and they started fairly small as they were expensive to make as well as buy. They did, of course, get larger, varying in size and shape as well as function. 

If you are looking for a true antique there are a few telltale signs that can help you distinguish a real antique from a reproduction. 

Worn frame and flawed backing

Antique frames are made of sturdy woods such as mahogany and oak, as well as metals such as copper and brass. Keep a keen eye out for minor scratches and signs of wear on the frame like worn-out carvings of little chips. Older antique mirrors usually have a wood backing as opposed to the paper backing used in modern mirrors. The screws, nails, and hangers should also be fairly uneven and imperfect since manufacturing techniques weren’t as accurate back then as they are now.  Some mirrors even have a tag or marking of some sort indicating the name of the maker, where it was made, or even the year itself. 

Aging and oxidation

No matter the materials used to make the mirror, after 100 years or more there’s bound to be some oxidation. This will leave the mirror with white or dark  irregular splotches. These can also be manufactured so be on the lookout for perfection or uniformity in the pattern. More blotchiness is generally concentrated towards the bottom because when a mirror is cleaned with water, the liquid seeps downward.  

Imperfect surface

Early manufacturing methods  involved pouring the glass and pressing it into place. This resulted in the appearance of random bubbles and a certain wavy quality. Although, just because the glass is imperfect doesn’t necessarily mean it is antique, it could be manufactured to look that way. Older glass is also much thinner than modern glass, not to mention it often has a yellowish greyish tinge. Modern glass is thick, ‘clear’ or colourless, and provides a more exact reflection.   

Sparkly glass 

Another great way to spot real antique mirrors is a crystalline, shimmery effect that appears behind the glass. Older mirrors were made by placing the glass over a layer of mercury and tin which, over time, has created a sparkly look. 

Types of antique mirrors 

Antique mirrors come in all shapes and sizes although earlier mirrors were much smaller and tended to be circular or oval. Depending on what you wish to use the mirror for, you can find mounted, vanity, freestanding, handheld, and even pocket mirrors. 

You may also want to focus on mirrors from a certain period depending on the decorating style of your space. These periods are separated either by styles of the time or the ruling monarch. 

The earliest antique mirrors came about in the Gothic period featuring frames made of dark wood, ornate carvings, and pointed arches. The styles kept evolving sometimes simpler, and sometimes more ornate.

The Rococo period brought with it the first of floral carvings, typically found at the top of the frame, and the mirrors themselves were more rectangular. During Art Nouveau, craftsmanship and frame styles took quite a turn with swirly, winding shapes and nature motifs. They were typically made of pewter or black lacquer.   

If you’re not familiar with the different periods or their varying styles, go ahead and look them up online to see what better suits your tastes.

Where to find them 

You want to research different luxury brands and antique stores to the best of your ability before deciding on any one piece. Some great places to start are Blue Ocean Traders, Horchow, and Omero Home. They have great selections of vintage and antique mirrors, not to mention various other vintage and antique home decor and furniture items. You can compare pricing, keeping in mind that the price varies according to the period, condition, detailing, and so on. You can also get a better look at what will work best for your home or space, as well as the existing decor. Accessibility 

How to use them 

Antique mirrors have an edge over modern mirrors. All the characteristics that personify an antique, like the period centric styling, good quality woods and metals, carvings, the inaccurate, sparkly reflection, they add a touch of personality and glamour that modern mirrors just don’t have. 

  • You can use a mounted or freestanding mirror to give the illusion of a bigger space by placing it against a wall that faces an entrance, doors, or a nice view. 
  • They can serve as artwork, especially since they offer such an interesting and almost magical reflection of its surroundings.
  • The detailed frame and uniquely colored glass can serve as awe inspiring focal point in any room.
  • Use them to bring in light to a small or particularly dark room. Whether space is lit by daylight or manufactured light, it will all be amplified by the mirror. This technique works especially well in hallways, entryways, and even dining rooms.
  • Create a wall of mirrors by strategically placing mirrors of different shapes and sizes in a collage-like fashion. 

Antique mirrors have the power to completely transform a space whether it be by adding light, the illusion of space, serving as an element of decor, or providing a focal point. They add an air of sophistication, mystery, and history that can amp up an otherwise ordinary room, into something extraordinary. 

How to clean them

Antique mirrors are more delicate than regular mirrors, but they’re not all that difficult to clean. You want to avoid harsh chemicals and excess water because both can damage the glass.

A good, DIY cleaning solution that is completely safe for any mirror, is a mixture of 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and a quart of water. You just spray this solution onto the mirror and wipe the mirror clean with a dry paper towel or newspaper. This works great for regular cleaning, but if the mirror is particularly cloudy, you can also dip the paper towel or newspaper directly into the white vinegar and cleaning it that way. Take special care to avoid the frame, especially if it’s made of wood. 

If you’d rather not deal with the smell of vinegar, you can also use shaving foam, not gel, instead. You just spray a little bit directly on the antique mirror and wipe with paper towel or newspaper. Again, make sure to avoid the frame. 

To clean the antique mirror frame, all you have to do is dust it lightly with a duster or soft cloth. If you want to get into the finer crevices of carvings and details, grab a cotton swab or QTip to carefully get any hidden dirt. 

Is there anything you’d like to add to this list of must-knows? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

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