By Martin Hart on Tue 10 December 2019
We have been using mirrors for thousands of years, but when did the mirror as we know it come into popular use? If you’ve ever wondered how mirrors were created, or how they work, this blog has the answers you need.
It is thought that the first mirror was made in Turkey 8,000 years ago with polished obsidian; however, the history of the mirror as we know it was born in 1835 when Justus von liebig invented the silvered-glass. Before Liebig, mercury had often been used to make mirrors, but Liebig invented the process for silvering that is still used in modern mirror-making today.
Liebig found through experimenting that a chemical group called aldehydes reduced silver salts to metallic silver. In 1856 a fellow scientist proposed that Liebig try to create blemish-free mirrors, with the aim of using them in telescopes. Liebig managed this feat by adding copper to the silver solution.
Having created such a beautiful mirror, Liebig hoped his method could replace the mercury mirrors which were more frequently in production. The creation of mercury mirrors was dangerous and had adverse effects on the health of those produced them. Sadly, his method didn’t take off until after his death, but his mirrors are greatly appreciated by the modern world.
How They Work
Mirrors function by reflecting light. To do this, a smooth surface is needed and the material used must not absorb or scatter the light.
Light that is bounced off of an object is then reflected on a mirrored surface. Magnifying mirrors are created by concentrating these light rays. This occurs by creating a concave surface, rather than the flat surfaces that accurate mirrors use.
Mirrors are used in a variety of professions, from hairdressing to astrology.
Use in Art
Mirrors have often captured the attention of artists and writers alike, so the mirror in art may be acting as a metaphor. One of the obvious uses of the mirror would be to suggest vanity, as it does in Snow White, but the use of mirrors goes much further than that.
Many have commented on the uncanny feeling evoked by mirrors, which has often transformed them from simple, everyday objects into fantasy realms, where they can act as portents or portals.
In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, Alice passes through a mirror into the world of Wonderland, which signifies her desire to fantasize the day away. In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of The Phantom of the Opera, a mirror is also used as a portal. Catherine stands in front of the mirror in her dressing room and sees the Phantom behind it. It is then revealed that the mirror is a secret door through which she can step to visit the Phantom.
Mirrors have also been used in respected poetry and novels such as The Lady of Shalott, Richard II, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula for various effects.
The use of mirrors in day-to-day beauty and their literary significance have no doubt impacted artist’s opinions of the capabilities of mirrors. There are various artistic uses of mirrors, from the installation of mirrors in public places to the use of mirrors in architecture to create brighter, shinier buildings.
The House of Mirrors found at many fun fairs can be a great source of family entertainment, and there are a variety of curious art installations that use mirrors to make statements.
In The Home
Mirrors can create a very modern feel to any piece designed to go inside the home. If you’re trying to update some furniture designs, we recommend using mirror screws to set your designs apart from the crowd.