Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace

Please Select Search Type:
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

The Looking Glasses Of A Hundred Years (Part 2)

The workmanship continued to improve, and the shapes of looking-glasses became more varied. There were wide and narrow ovals, square and oblong frames, frequently carved so delicately that many extant specimens are broken.The earlier ones were flat, but rich carving and pierced work soon came into vogue. The rococo of Louis XV ( 1715-1774) and the ribbon bows of Louis XVI (1774-1793) became popular in turn, and during the Chippendale period Chinese designs were in favor.

One of the most famous designers of frames during this period was Matthias Lock, who was at the height of his popularity about 1765. Thomas Johnson, Ince and Mayhew, Manwaring, and Chippendale, all designed or made looking-glasses, following similar lines of style. Lock and Johnson made elaborate frames for girandoles and convex glasses or bull's-eyes, pier-glasses, ovals, and chimneypieces, all ornately carved and largely in a combination of rococo and Chinese. Chippendale himself gave rein to his widest versatility in his looking-glass frames, making some in pure rococo. Some fine Chinese pieces, frequently ascribed to him, were designed by Ince and Mayhew.

During the late Georgian period-from 1760 to 1790 Heppelwhite made mirrors in his characteristic shield and oval shapes, mostly small and fragile. They were usually made in pairs. Good specimens are now rare. The Adam brothers also designed looking-glass frames, but both Adam and Heppelwhite had so many imitators that it is almost im possible to distinguish their work. Many of these frames bore medallions above and below, oval rosettes, beadwork, fan ornaments, urns, eagles, the husk pattern, ram's heads and feet, and other Heppelwhite and Adam details. Heppelwhite's influence is also displayed in such delicate ornaments as a gilt vase of flowers and stalks of wheat standing in the broken arch at the top of the frame.

During the earlier part of the Georgian period the revival of the Queen Anne style had already begun, and flat frames of solid walnut or mahogany were made, with gilt ornaments, especially at the sides, with curves at the bottom and the broken arch at the top, though with the glass square at the top, as already stated. A looking-glass of this type hangs at Mount Vernon, and has been called the George Washington mirror; this has been often reproduced, both honestly and dishonestly. During the last quarter of the century this style, somewhat modified, became still more common in America.These looking-glasses were made cheaper, with the flat frames frequently of veneered walnut or mahogany, and sometimes rather roughly cut out with a jig-saw. Less gilt was used as a rule, and one of the later additions was a narrow gilt molding around the inside of the frame.

After the Revolution the eagle was adopted as the national emblem in this country long before the advent of the eagle of the Empire period as a design feature. By that time looking-glasses were being largely manufactured in this country, and from1780 to 1790 the famous "Constitution" glasses were made. These followed the style described in the previous paragraph, having flat frames of solid or veneered mahogany, with curves at the bottom, gilt plaster ornaments on wires at the side, and a gilt eagle of wood or plaster in the broken arch at the top. A similar mirror appeared later (1810 to 1815), with fewer gilt ornaments, more cutting out of points and curves at top and bottom, and with a gilt plaster eagle appearing in bas-relief on the flat surface of the wood at the top.

In many of the looking-glasses of this type made in both England and America the lines of the Queen Anne style were so closely reproduced that mirrors of 1730and of 1800 are often confused, though there is a great difference in their value when correctly identified. The details that I have mentioned should be carefully examined; of course the Queen Anne frames never bear the Heppelwhite ornaments or the true eagle at the top, and are never made of mahogany.

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries several very interesting forms of lookingglasses were made which are worthy of separate consideration. First, there were the convex circular mirrors the bull's-eyes and girandoles already mentioned. These may have been made first by Chippendale and his contemporaries, but they did not become popular in this country until after 1780. Their vogue lasted until 1800 or later, in both North and South.

The glasses of these mirrors were usually convex, though some flat ones are found that are unquestionably genuine. The frames were heavy, gilt, and of carved wood or molded plaster, or both. Frequently a rim of ebony or ebonized wood appeared around the inside of the frame proper. A more or less elaborate figure appeared on top, usually a spread eagle.After 1780 heavy beading or a row of balls ornamented the frame; they did not appear before that date.

These mirrors were twelve to thirtv-six inches in diameter, the smaller ones often coming in pairs. Many of them had two or more candle-holders at the bottom and sides, and these are usually called girandoles.

Over-mantel mirrors or chimneypieces have been popular ever since the titne of Charles I in England (1625-1649), when the Louis XIII style prevailed both in England and France. A few superb examples of this period, the work of Inigo Jones, are still in existence.

Mantel glasses were in common demand all through the eighteenth century, especially from 1600 to 1800, when both oval and oblong shapes began to be popular. The latter were made with one large plate of glass or in three sections, divided by moldings, the two end sections being smaller than the middle one. Fine examples of this latter type, chiefly with beautiful gilt frames, were made after 1800, though some fine ones were made earlier. The Salem mantel glass in the Nichols collection, which is a famous and very beautiful piece that is known to have been made in 1783, but the commoner type of Colonial mirror, with columns or pilasters dividing the lights, came after 1800. The earlier ones usually had straight tops and pillars, the latter usually being narrow and fluted and sometimes entwined with wreaths. Later an ornamented section appeared in the upper part of the glass, not painted as it was after 1800, but consisting of a carved or cut-out design fastened to the surface of the glass, which was often enameled in white as a background.Frequently single looking-glasses were made to match the chimneypieces.

Cheval-glasses were not common until 1830, but occasionally one is found dating back to 1800 or even earlier. They stood about six feet high, were mounted on posts and feet, and could be tipped forward or backward. The frames were usually mahogany veneer. Tall pier-glasses are also of comparatively late date, though they were used to some extent in late Georgian times over the handsome Heppelwhite and Sheraton pier-tables.

The Empire and Colonial looking-glasses of the early nineteenth century may be classed as antiques. From about 1805 Empire styles began to appear, inspired by the French furniture of the period. Some had flat mahogany frames, with brass or gilt Empire ornaments, and sometimes with marble columns at the sides.The Empire spirit also made itself felt in the looking-glasses of the American manufacturers and designers, and from 1810 to 1830 we find heavy frames with straight, overhanging cornices at the top: The carved designs included the acanthus leaf, the lyre, and the eagle, with pendent ball or acorn ornaments on the under side of the cornice. The frames were of mahogany and gilt, and the sides were straight, spiral, fluted, or baluster-shaped, and less slender than formerly. About 1825 a frame of gilded plaster or soft wood, baluster-shaped or ropelike, on four sides, without the cornice, became common. Sometimes wooden or brass rosettes appeared at the corners.

The glass in looking-glasses of this type was no longer beveled, as a rule, and frequently there were scenes, usually pastoral or historic, painted in colors or gilt on the glass in the upper section.

I have been speaking chiefly of English and American made looking-glasses, as these were by far the most common in this country a hundred years ago. There were, however, some Italian, French, and other European glasses in use here during the eighteenth century. One type of Italian make was called the Bilboa glass. These were brought to Massachusetts in considerable numbers. They had frames of colored marble, with marble pillars at the sides and gilt vases or other ornaments at the top. French mirrors of the Louis XV and Louis XVI styles were imported to some extent, including a few with frames of white enamel and gilt.

The subject of Colonial looking-glasses cannot well be dismissed without mention of the mirror knobs or rosettes that were used to support the hang ing glass at the bottom and to cause it to tip forward. These were used to a greater or less extent throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and are worth collecting for their own sake. They fitted neatly into the curves at the bottom of the flatframed Queen Anne and Georgian looking-glasses. Sometimes they were of brass, but the better ones were round or oval medallions of enamel on brass or copper, bearing in colors such designs as urns, busts or heads of historical personages, flowers, bits of landscape, fancy heads, and the lugubrious monument and weeping-willow. After the Revolution we find the eagle and thirteen stars. During the Empire period glass rosettes were used, like those employed to hold back window-curtains, only smaller.

There is no fixed value on these old looking-glasses, but in general it may be said that a constantly increasing demand is running up the prices. Some of the plainer Queen Anne glasses seem to have gone unappreciated, and may sometimes be picked up as cheap as $100, but often prices of Queen Anne glasses run up to $300 or $400, if genuine. The earlier Georgian and Chippendale glasses, if good examples, are worth $ $500 to $1,000, roughly speaking, and the finer Adam and Heppelwhite designs are worth as much. Bull's-eyes and circular girandoles are worth from $ $200 to $450, being very popular with collectors.Three section mantel glasses of good design and workmanship are worth $2oo to $350,and higher. The better-class Empire glasses, with cornice, are worth from $150 to $300, and the late Colonial giltframed pieces are worth $75 to $150, depending largely on the excellence and condition of the painting in the upper section.

Before speaking of fakes and counterfeits, just a word should be written regarding modern reproductions. There are concerns in this country now making them in good style at reasonable prices-from $25 to $75. For householders who for any reason cannot secure genuine antiques, but desire something suitable for the walls of a room decorated and furnished in the Colonial style, nothing could be more appropriate.

As in the case of old furniture, there are unquestionably bogus looking-glasses on the market. In many cases these are honest reproductions which have been scratched and discolored and otherwise "antiqued." It would, therefore, be well to know something of the designs of those manufacturers who make good reproductions-both the frames and the painted panels. If you run across an old-looking mirror in exactly the style of one of these stock reproductions, be suspicious.

Even more common is the fitting of new glass into an old frame. Of course this often has to be done when the glass has been broken or mercury wornoff, but the highest price cannot be obtained in such cases without a resort to deception.

Only an expert can be sure of himself in these cases of faking, and even he needs to study workmanship, design, condition of wood, joints, bevel of glass, ect., very carefully before he can be sure. No infallible rules can be given to guard against being cheated, and , as in buying most other classses of antiques, it is a case of Caveat emptor (buyer beware).

[Return To Part 1 Of Article]

Bookmark and Share