Mirrors: A Brief History

Today’s modern mirrors are glass covered with thin metallic backing, which creates a reflective image. While modern mirrors haven’t been around forever, mirrors, in one form or another, have been around thousands of years.

Nearly a millennium ago, mirrors were nothing more than polished discs of metal. Mirror costs were so high that only royalty could afford mirrors. The middle and lower classes had to use common ponds to view their reflections, and in heavily populated areas this required standing in lengthy lines. Full-length mirrors are only around 400 years old and were once only available to aristocrats.

Studies show that mirrors are deeply engrained in the human psyche, simultaneously representing illusion and truth. Mirrors give people glimpse of themselves, which made them sources of science and magic for many centuries. However, studies also show that humans don’t possess the intuitive responses to effectively deal with reflections.

Around 600 B.C., humans began making very simple mirrors. These were no more than polished obsidian, which created a highly reflective surface. Through the ages, humans began to design more sophisticated mirror designs, including silver, lead, gold, copper and bronze. As these natural materials were quite heavy, mirrors were very small, rarely exceeding eight inches in diameter.

The only exception during the aforementioned timeframe was the Pharos, which was a lighthouse located in Alexandria, Egypt. This lighthouse contained a massive metal mirror that was designed to reflect sunlight and relied on the reflection of fire at night to help aid ships in their sea journeys.

During the Middle Ages, contemporary mirrors gained popularity, but the production process was quite expensive and extremely difficult. One of the most significant difficulties was that the glassmaking sand was so impure that it produced mirrors that lacked clarity. During the Renaissance, a low-temperature lead process was invented, which helped improve mirror clarity. The Venetians finally refined the mirror making process with sophisticated and advanced glass techniques. Their secrets were so revered and desired that artisans who attempted to sell their valuable mirror-making secrets were commonly assassinated.

Around the 1660s, mathematicians began using mirrors in telescopes, with the first reflecting telescope designed in 1721. Modern mirrors are created using a silvering process. A thin layer of aluminum or silver is applied to the back of glass, which provides an instant reflective surface. Today, mirrors are commonplace and inexpensive, found in all homes, especially in bathrooms.

The Oval and Round Mirror Store offers a wide variety of wall mirrors, including round mirrors, rectangle mirrors and oval mirrors. These framed mirrors pair well with modern, vintage and traditional decors. 

15th Apr 2014 Eric Morgan

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