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Line Vautrin Boudoir convex mirror, which sold for $78,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2023. Image courtesy of South Bay Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Bid Smart Briefs: Mirrors

NEW YORK – We have always been desperate to get a good look at ourselves. The earliest known mirror, found near what is now Konya, Turkey, dates to 6200 BC, predating the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages. It was made from obsidian, a form of black glass produced by volcanic eruptions.

Human beings did make mirrors out of bronze and copper when metal-working advances allowed, but before then, the materials fashioned into tools to show us our own faces included mica, marble, selenite, slate, pyrite (aka fool’s gold), anthracite (a type of coal), hematite and magnetite (both are iron ores), and in China, polished jade. Pretty much any substance that could take a shine met the need.

The leading civilizations of the ancient world embraced mirrors, none more so than the Egyptians (how else were they to apply their beloved cosmetics?). Even the most modest ancient Egyptian graves contained a mirror, even if it was just a piece of wood painted to mimic one. The Romans fitted their public baths with mirrors, prompting Seneca to comment, “We think ourselves poorly off, living like paupers, if the walls [of the baths] are not ablaze with large and costly mirrors.” And, of course, the ancient Greeks, via Ovid, gave us the myth of Narcissus, the young man who fell in love with his own reflection.

For centuries, mirror-making was cutting-edge technology, and mirrors were regarded as luxury goods. According to Mark Pendergast’s 2003 book Mirror Mirror: A History of the Human Affair with Reflection, “At the beginning of the sixteenth century, a Venetian mirror in an elaborate silver frame was valued at 8,000 pounds, nearly three times the contemporary price of a painting by Raphael.” When King Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, opened the partially finished Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in 1668, visitors were awestruck. More than 350 years later, they still are.

Mirrors are no longer seen as miraculous or magical, except perhaps those fitted inside the massive telescopes that are revealing the secrets of the skies far beyond our home planet. Nor do we need mirrors to amplify and spread light – electricity has assumed that role. Nonetheless, we love mirrors and place at least a few in our homes. The desire to own a mirror that is as beautiful, or even more beautiful, than those who gaze into it is natural and normal, and not at all narcissistic. But when presented with the mirrors shown in this slideshow, you might find yourself looking a little longer than you intended.