Artifact Corner: Mirrors

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a couple of mirrors that we have in our collections. Our mirrors are from the late Romantic era through the Victorian period. Mirrors would have been used not only to see your reflection in, but also as a way of spreading light. When our museum was a home, they had no electricity, so evenings were lit by candles and oil lamps. Putting a candle in front of a mirror will help radiate the light further through the room, making the long winter evenings a bit more enjoyable. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of mirrors.

Humans have always wanted to see what they looked like. The first mirrors used by humans were most likely pools of dark, still water, or water collected in a vessel. The earliest manufactured mirrors were pieces of polished stone such as obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass. Examples of obsidian mirrors found in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) have been dated to around 6000 BCE. Mirrors of polished copper were crafted in Mesopotamia from 4000 BCE, and in ancient Egypt from around 3000 BCE. Polished stone mirrors from Central and South America date from around 2000 BCE onwards. By the Bronze Age most cultures were using mirrors made from polished discs of bronze, copper, silver, or other metals.

Glass began to be used for mirrors in the 1st century CE in Rome, with the development of soda-lime glass and glass blowing. Glass mirrors continued to evolve and improve throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

During the early Renaissance, a fire-gilding technique developed to produce an even and highly reflective tin coating for glass mirrors. The back of the glass was coated with a tin-mercury amalgam, and the mercury was then evaporated by heating the piece. But this was an expensive and laborious process, which meant that these pieces carried a hefty price tag. It wasn’t until 1835, when German chemist Justus von Liebig invented a silvered glass mirror process, that mirrors became more affordable. His wet deposition process involved the deposition of a thin layer of metallic silver onto glass through the chemical reduction of silver nitrate. This silvering process was adapted for mass manufacturing and led to the greater availability of affordable mirrors. Currently mirrors are often produced by the wet deposition of silver, or sometimes nickel or chromium (the latter used most often in automotive mirrors) via electroplating directly onto the glass substrate.

Mirrors are used for so many things in our lives today, not just to check our reflection. Our three mirrors are in good shape, and look incredible when you have candles flickering in front of them! They harken back to our homes history before electricity, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,