Page 159 - The Hunt - Spring 2019
P. 159

                                 Anne or Chippendale, for example—but many draw their names from their backstories. As mirrors were expensive, if an owner had the bad luck to break one, rather than trying to replace it, he might build a frame to fit the largest piece. These were called “make do” mirrors. They’re fairly common, but also fairly expensive
to purchase.
“Then there were ‘courting mirrors,’ often coming in a pine box,” Lane
says. “They were from Scandinavia, and scads of them were made.” They were small, often decorated, and given as gifts by suitors in
the early 18th century. Once unboxed, they could be hung in a hallway for a quick glance at how one looked before answering the door. Freestanding mirrors that can be tilted were called “cheval glasses” and came into popularity, Lane says, during the early 1800s. “Early mir- rors usually lasted only a generation or two,” he notes, before they began to lose their reflective qualities.
Originally, an amalgam of tin and mercury was used for backing clear glass. Later a silver process was used. Resurfacing a mirror still goes by the term “silvering.” In old mirrors, mercury, a very toxic metal, can actually drip out of it—and Wagner warns that laying the mirror flat doesn’t help. Winterthur is currently using a new scientific tool called an XRF spectrometer to examine its mirrors for mercury without having to deconstruct them.
H.L. “Skip” Chalfant has several antique mirrors at his
shop on Paoli Pike east of West Chester, most of them in the Chippendale style. Chippendale frames are generally flat wood with decorative touches carved into the edges, although some may
have a finial or a bird at the top. “Every collector needs a
Chippendale mirror,” Chalfant says. And they are affordable. Some are signed by the person who made
them, and many found locally are signed by Philadelphia cabinetmaker John Elliott. These mirrors can be purchased for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on their maker and their condition.
Several of Chalfont’s pieces, like many antique mirrors, are losing their silvering. But it’s better for a trader
in antiques to leave them that way. “They’re worth more if you don’t repair them,” Chalfant says.
He displays a handsome mirror
that appears a little warped around
the edges. “Pine was often used as
the backing, and it was covered with
walnut or another wood,” Chalfant
says. “But the woods age differently,” causing the warping.
How many faces have gazed into these mirrors since they were manufactured two or three centuries ago? How many balls, parties and liaisons have they witnessed from their wall-side perches?o
A Chippendale mirror.
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