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Hand Mirrors Brushes - Facts & Tips

Hand mirrors have a long history of use both as household accessories and as objects of decoration. The earliest mirrors were hand mirrors, adopted by the Celts from the Romans and by the end of the Middle Ages had become quite common throughout Europe.

The hand mirrors of the ancient Greeks and Romans were a handled metal disk with a highly polished face, sometimes with a design on the back. Glass hand mirrors were made in large quantities in Venice from the 16th century, the back being covered with a thin coating of tin mixed with mercury; after 1840 a thin coating of silver was generally substituted.

Most of the hand mirrors we carry are from the late Victorian era and the very early 1900's.  Women from well to do families enjoyed their personal possessions and a hand mirror was a must have for every vanity, including the children's room.  Even their purses carried detailed miniature examples, many with elaborate designs, figural portraits and stunning floral arrangements.

For the most part, the glass mirrors themselves were hand cut and beveled, then framed in an array of metals such as, German silver, brass, silver plate and sterling, some with a gold wash.

Many of the porcelain backed hand mirrors were made in France and Germany but only those made for export were required to carry a mark on the back of the porcelain denoting the country of origin.


 



 

 

The celluloid backed hand mirrors from the late Victorian era often had metal handles molded with an embossed full bodied mermaid on both the front and back sides.  Earlier thermoplastics, from the mid 1800's, were also used to form hand mirrors and brushes.

The Victorian age, 1837 - 1901, was an era characterized by rapid transformation, an age of confidence and optimism which led to economic growth and prosperity.  For the most part, Victorian families were large and they encouraged hard work, respectability, social esteem and conformity to religious values.  The upper class Victorian child enjoyed all the accessories of life that their parents could afford them.  The Victorian children's vanity hand mirrors and brushes are a small example of the extravagant garnishes these children were accustomed to living with. 

My favorite antique children's pieces are the porcelain backed hand mirrors and brushes from the mid to late 1800's.  They were constructed in the same shapely design and manner as their full sized counterpart.  Brushes are not as easily found, especially the clothes brush which is often confused with the hair brush because they are nearly identical.  The only difference being, the natural bristles of the clothes brush are definitely longer as shown in the photo, the hair brush is in the middle.
full natural bristles all in place The metal framing and handles were typically made of German Silver (a nickel alloy) and many were gold gilded as well.  The handles were embossed with lovely details and the original glass mirrors had a hand cut beveled edge.  The porcelain discs were usually transfer decorated with floral arrangements and figural scenes.  The more desired and sought after scenic examples included the flower fairy, mother with children on wash day, playful cherubs and Dutch children.  Today, these figural hand mirrors or sets are harder to find in damage free condition.

If you love Victorian items, be sure to add one of these adorable treasures to your collection, you will never regret it.  Soon, they will become nearly extinct.  Be sure to check each of our hand mirror pages and search for examples of these elusive accessories.

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