The Breakdown

The $4,200 Mirror

By Frances Dodds
October 26, 2017

$4k for a mirror? With good reason! Assessing the value, craftsmanship, origin, and material of a vintage piece from eBay Collective’s 145 Antiques

A mirror is one of home design’s most transformative pieces. It can completely alter the appearance of the room around it—not to mention the appearance of the person looking into it! But when does a piece of reflective glass warrant a $4,200 price tag, like the one on this French 19th century mirror from the Louis Philippe era? We turned to Jim Gurski and Anthony Checetto at Collective dealer 145 Antiques—which is selling the piece—for the details.

Era and rarity. “King Louis Philippe was right before Napoleon III, so the dates were about 1830 to 1850, and this is a typical style of that period,” says Gurski. “The French don’t really think of Louis Philippe pieces as being real antiques—they only look at the 1700s and earlier as real antiques. That means no one ever copied or reproduced pieces from these years.”

Detailing. “The frame is wood with gold leaf on it, so it’s giltwood,” Checetto says. “It also has these hand engraved carvings of flowers throughout that were, at one time, painted a very vibrant red to bring out the gold leaf.”

 Photographs courtesy of 145 Antiques
Photographs courtesy of 145 Antiques

‘Authenticity of era is usually determined by the back of the mirror,’ says Checetto. ‘That’s where you can gauge the age of a piece.’

Original mirror. “On the glass itself you can see oxidation, or marks where the mirror is actually fading from the inside,” Checetto explains. “That’s a sure sign of the age because nothing but time that can have that effect. Those little black spots between the two pieces of glass is a quality you pay for.”

Cost of procurement to dealer. “We do almost all of our buying in Europe—primarily France—so a big factor in our final pricing is what it costs us to ship the pieces back home,” Checetto says.

Pro tips: Always ask for close-up, high-quality photographs of the front and back.

Authenticity of era is usually determined by the back of the mirror, says Checetto. “That’s where you can gauge the age of the piece,” he says. “You can tell the backing on this one is very old because there’s a certain way they made them at that time—with two-by-fours and tongue-in-groove plank wooding.” Gurski adds, “If the mirror has plywood on the back or Phillips-head screws, then either the backing has been replaced or it’s a new mirror. Phillips-head screws only came into vogue in the ‘50s.”

How to spot an old mirror, based on the glass: first, look for oxidation.

How to spot an old mirror, based on the glass: First, look for oxidation. Another clue: While this particular mirror was not silvered with mercury, many mirrors from that era were (until they realized that the unsealed mercury was killing people!) and now, restored—sealed— pieces are in high demand for what Checetto describes as a “shimmering effect, like glitter exploded in the mirror.”

Also during this period, they hadn’t yet worked out methods for making large mirrors so, Gurski says, “If you buy a mirror that’s like six feet tall, it’ll be stacked—or separated in the middle—because they didn’t have the techniques to make the glass longer than that.”

With dealers that don’t do the shipping themselves, make sure to get your mirror insured with the shipping company of your choice. And, if you’d like, ask the dealer if you can have a trial period with the piece. “Established dealers often allow pieces to go out for approval to the buyer so the buyer can see the mirror before actually purchasing it,” Gurski says. “And the buyer pays for that back and forth if they decide not to keep it.”