How to Determine the Value of an Old Mirror
The ornately carved mirror hangs above the fireplace silently guarding it secrets. It is an exquisite addition to your sitting room and a conversation piece long admired by family and friends. Having never given it much thought, you now find yourself curious as to the old mirror’s lineage and value. The discovery process will require a bit of determination and detective work on your part. By employing a combination of physical inspection, research and expert advice, you can uncover its past and find out just how much your old mirror is worth.
Where to Start?
In most cases, a direct correlation exists between the age of a mirror and its value. Mass-produced examples from the early 20th century do not command the same price as handcrafted antique mirrors from the 1800s and earlier. So, zeroing in on the time your mirror was made will be the first step in determining its value. Begin by performing a thorough inspection of your mirror to see if you can gather enough information to make an educated guess as to its age.
Examine Your Mirror
1. Check the Mirror Glass
The reflective silver mercury backing of an entique mirror breaks down and oxidizes over time, appearing as random cloudy spots around the edges and across the mirror surface. If the mottled patches on your mirror look too uniform, it may be a reproduction mirror plate. Glass color is another indicator of age. Old mirror glass has a distinctive yellow or gray cast. Colorless glass indicates a modern mirror or replacement mirror glass. Unfortunately, both instances will negatively affect the value of your mirror.
Good Info to Help Identify Antique Mirror Glass
2. Inspect the Back
The back of your old mirror also reveals much about its age. Antique mirrors typically feature a wood rather than a paper backing. Examine the construction to ensure all nails, screws and hangers are true to the period. Hand-forged fasteners will look extremely crude and irregular compared to modern, machine-made versions. Inspect the back for a mark or tag indicating the maker and place of origin.
3. Look for Clues in the Frame
The overall condition and material used to make a mirror frame plays an important role in valuation. Look for imperfections that differentiate a handmade mirror from a pristine reproduction. The frame should show reasonable signs of wear and even minor damage. Old frame materials include solid wood, wood veneer, plaster composition or metal. Examine the mirror frame for extensive restorative work. An sloppy or obvious repair job will detract from its value.
Check the Condition of Your Mirror Frame
4. Take Note of Fakes
There are some really talented people out there whose sole purpose is to fool us into thinking we own a valuable an antique mirror, when in fact it is a artfully crafted reproduction. They do an excellent job replicating old mirror glass, frames and even hand-wrought hardware. If you find yourself completely stumped when examining your old mirror, try some of the following tips to further determine if your mirror is the "real deal".
Research Online Antique Sites
Check reputable online antique sites for similar mirrors. A broad search of "antique mahogany mirrors" can produce millions of results and leave you highly frustrated. Look at online photos of old mirrors to identify a time period and style. Once you have a rough idea of the age and style of your mirror, use a combination of descriptive keywords to narrow your search as much as possible.
Words such as "Georgian", "Regency", "Empire", "Louis" or "Victorian" will refer to the monarchy at the time the mirror was made. You can also use keywords like "baroque", "directoire", "gothic" or "neoclassical" which indicate the style of the mirror and also point to a time of manufacture. In addition to giving an idea of value, online antique sites often include details about each mirror—information that may provide insight into the history and rarity of your mirror. Corroborate your findings by consulting multiple online antique and auction sites.
Characteristics of Antique Mirrors From Different Periods
Early 1600s and prior
Pointed arch shape, linen folds, elaborate carvings, dark oak
Early 1600s to 1700
Oval, gilding in gold and silver, cherubs, carved foliage and garlands
Early to mid 1700s
Rectangular, walnut and mahogany, gilding and bronzing, shell motifs, highly ornate
Mid 1700s to early 1800s
Oval with flat base, gilded gold or silver, restrained, leaves branches and urn motifs
Early to mid 1700s
Rectangular or oval, symmetrical, veneer over oak, fretwork scrolls
Late 1700s to early 1800s
Oval or round, mahogany or gold gild, leaf motifs, Eagle and flags, convex mirror
Early 1800s to 1900
Oversize and rectangular, metal or dark wood, heavy ornamentation
Visit Free Appraisal Events
Not everyone is lucky enough to go to an Antiques Roadshow event. However, you can find ethical antique dealers, auction houses and organizations that offer free appraisal events and services. Contact your local antique society for events in your area. Visit reputable antique dealers offering free appraisal services. Never rely on the opinion of a single dealer, visit several to get a good feel for your mirror’s actual worth.
Try Your Luck at a Free Appraisal Event
Hire an Appraiser
If your investigative work to this point suggests you might own a valuable, old mirror, consider investing in a certified appraisal. An antique appraisal will lend credibility to your research and establishes value. Written appraisals consist of a complete item description, an opinion of fair market retail value and an indication of replacement value for insurance purposes. Appraisers charge flat fees or hourly rates, which can set you back several hundred dollars based on the amount of information requested.
About Antique Appraisals
Questions & Answers
I have an old looking mirror with the numbers 10/5063 written on the back. What is the meaning of those numbers?
Those numbers are for identification. They typically mean who made it, where it was made and the date of manufacture.Helpful 25
How do I figure out the time period and value of my mirror?
Take multiple pictures of your mirror (including any numbers or maker's marks) and show them to an antique appraiser or send them to an online appraisal service.Helpful 17
I was gifted a sizeable etched mirror in 1980. The mirror has been hanging in my living room ever since. It has a date in the back from the late 1800’s, which I cannot see since it’s hanging on the wall. Who can I contact for its appraisal?
If your city or town is large enough, there should be antique appraisers locally available. Do an online search to find one that might specialize in mirrors. If there aren't any appraisers in your area, there are many online. Send them a few photos, and they can help for a nominal fee, or some will do it for free.Helpful 12
How do you know if a mirror contains mercury?
Distinguishing mercury-containing mirrors from silvered mirrors can be difficult. If the mirror was produced before the early 20th century, it is likely a mercury amalgam mirror.Helpful 8
© 2014 Linda Chechar