People often think of their heirloom furniture, such as mirrors, as priceless antiques. They consider them invaluable due to the history they’ve garnered through the various generations they have survived. The truth is, not all antique looking mirrors actually have age value as you might suppose. Yes, that is right, just because it looks old, doesn’t make it valuable. If you’re questioning whether the “valuables” you’ve got collecting dust in your attic are just sentimental keepsakes or actual antiques with hidden worth, allow me to spur you on to the next important question. Should you try to restore an antique mirror?
Good questions, which we can answer right here. So, whether you are looking to sell an “antique” mirror and want to know how much to expect it to be worth, or if you are trying to decide whether to freshen up that dusty one in the attic, you’ve come to the right place.
Before you decide to sell or restore, it is important to know whether that mirror is actually an antique with value or not. Most experts require that a piece be at least a hundred years old or made before mass manufacturing to be considered a genuine antique. One of the clear tell-signs that a mirror is actually many years old is by a simple examination of the glass. The funny thing is, the more flaws there are on the glass, the more likely it is antique. Technology has made our ability to be precise and exact in manufacturing create mirrors that are essentially flawless and smooth. Mirrors that have bubbles, creases, or spots are typically this way because of the older, less-refined manufacturing process.
The manufacturing process for mirror glass, which is a regular sheet of glass with a thin reflective coating on the back, has adapted over the years. In the 16th century, mirrors were made with mercury and tin, which has a crystalline effect when it ages. If the glass has a shimmer or sparkle to it, it’s possible it is an antique. Nowadays, it is more likely for silver to be used on the back, but some old mirrors also use silver. The silver will often fog up in certain areas or de-silver if it is older (we’ll discuss this in more detail later).
Another way to tell if a mirror is a genuine oldie is by examining the mirror for markings that can identify the manufacturer, such as a name and date, or the signature of the artisan crafted the mirror. Many older mirrors were handcrafted and therefore contain little clues to the artist. Knowing history about some famous woodworkers during the time period you suspect the piece to be from can give you some ideas of what to look for.
Something else that increases the value of an antique mirror is if it is one-of-a-kind or the only one left. Do some research to see if the style, manufacturer, or artist’s (if you can identify them) work is rare. Many people own unique pieces of furniture and they don’t even know the value. Also, check the back of a mirror to find out how old it is. Many older mirrors have all-wood backs while newer ones tend to have a paper backing.
Now that you know whether your mirror is actually an antique or just a modern copy, you can discover how much it is worth by determining what condition it is in. There typically are three categories a sellable mirror can be placed in; Mint condition, Excellent condition and Good condition. If it is Mint condition, that means it is essentially perfect with no chips, cracks or breaks. Excellent condition means it has minor flaws like barely noticeable hairline cracks or minimal chips and spots. Good condition means there is some obvious weather and ware to the piece but it still maintains the original design, meaning it isn’t completely busted to pieces or rotted away.
If your piece is in any of these three conditions it is likely to be worth something. The better the condition, the more you will likely get for it.
The problem with trying to raise the value of an antique through restoration is that, often, tampering with a genuine antique will actually decrease that value or uniqueness. For this reason, antique collectors typically advise leaving antique mirror restoration to the experts.
There are ways that old mirrors can be freshened up. If the glass is riddled with spots from de-silvering, the coating in the back can be replaced. But old glass tends to be scratched or slightly hazy which is accentuated when new silver is placed on the back. Polishing out the glass creates distortions and warps the reflection. Furthermore, unless the glass is engraved it doesn’t hold any intrinsic value in itself. All of these reasons, cause many professionals to simply advise replacing the glass. Cleaning, painting or re-staining are all ways that the mirror frame can be revamped but all can slightly alter the original look and feel of the piece and should be considered with care.
Now you are well on your way to determining whether your mirror is actually an antique, if so, what value it truly holds, and if you should take the time and effort to restore it.
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