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Collectible Hand Mirrors

Ancient tribesmen polished stone until they could view their reflections in them while others used polished copper. It was not until German chemist Justus von Liebig realized that applying a thin layer of silver to one side of a clear piece of glass gives a reflection, creating a mirror. Soon, women around the world demanded fancy hand mirrors so that they could see their own reflections.

What were hand mirrors like during different periods?

It can be very difficult to determine when a hand mirror was made. One thing that collectors can do is examine characteristics of hand mirrors from different periods as most share common characteristics like:

  • Gothic- Most gothic hand mirrors are made of carved oak wood.
  • Baroque- Many baroque hand mirrors have an oval shape with ornate cherubs, garland, and foliage.
  • Rococo- Most antique hand mirrors from the Rococo period were rectangles of walnut or mahogany wood decorated with gold and silver gilding. These highly ornate mirrors often have shell motifs.
  • Neo-classical- Most antique hand mirrors from the neo-classical period had a flat bottom and a curved top with many containing motifs of leaves and urns.
  • Georgian- Hand mirrors from the Georgian era can be either oval or rectangular shape and made with veneer covered wood.
  • Regency- Antique mirrors from the Regency period were usually made of mahogany wood cut into either an oval or rectangle. Many contained flag or eagle motifs.
  • Victorian- Many Victorian ladies held a hand mirror made of metal while others are made of mahogany. Regardless of the base material, most contain lots of ornamentation.

Are vintage compacts collectible?

Many people choose to collect compact mirrors. Makeup companies started marketing these in the early 20th century with many soldiers sending their wives or girlfriends examples from around the world. Some collectors choose to focus on one particular brand with cases by A J Krank Manufacturing Co. Glebeas and Golden Peacock often bringing a premium. Others chose to focus on collecting enamel ones. While there were some American companies who tried selling them, most of the ones prized by collectors come from Germany, Austria and Italy. As women began to travel more, many cities began offering them with attractions on their cover. Those made by Kronheimer & Oldenbusch often had an external mirror, unlike most cases at the time. Other collectors focus on collecting novelty cases with collectors adding those shaped like purses, suitcases and hands to their collection.

How do you date antique and vintage mirrors?

Most antique and vintage hand mirrors do not have a production date on them. Therefore, it can be challenging to date old mirrors. Start by looking for clues in the mirror glass. Most collective mirrors have a reflective silver mirror backing, which leaves random mottled spots on the mirror over time. Most old mirror glass has a yellow or gray cast to it. The backing on most antique mirrors will be made of wood. Make sure that the handheld mirror is in line with hand-painted artwork done during the time period. Make sure that the wood is correct for the time period.

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