History Lesson: The Convex Mirror

The convex admiral eagle mirror has been a home decor staple for years. In fact, it first made it’s debut into the design world during the civil war.

For those lucky enough to find a real deal authentic one, consider yourself lucky! These beauties are hard to find.

The eagle, is a well known symbol of strength and independence. A tole leaf garland usually drapes on either side of the eagle. You can tell the age by how many balls are along the interior, as each ball represented a state or Colony.

Federal Eagle Convex Mirror

For example: These federal convex mirrors have 13 round circles for 13 states. This could date the piece to Rhode Island which was ratified on May 29, 1790 as the 13th state. Small variations in each mirror speak to the age of the pieces.

Federal convex mirrors made their way into the homes of the American elite and wealthy in the 1700s. The convex shape of these mirrors helped to illuminate the room when accompanied by candles. This type of mirror first became popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th century. The style was called Regency in England and Empire in France. The American Federal style was a direct outgrowth of the two European styles and varied mostly with it’s emphasis on patriotic symbols. The Federal era represents a 30-year period that extended from 1776-1806 after the formation of the United States. During this time, a strong sense of nationalism was born.

Architecture, furnishings and decorative embellishments of this era typically reflected the neoclassical style, which includes influences from Greece and Rome, prevalent in Europe and Great Britain at the time. These mirrors featured rounded glass with American symbols and finials added to the frames. Also called “Girandole” and “bull’s-eye” mirrors. Bull’s-eye mirrors typically included less stylized frames, but some had detailed frames. Like Girandole mirrors — sometimes the terms are used interchangeably — bull’s-eye mirrors are covered with gold leaf or bronze gilt or are made from imported hardwoods, such as ebony. The special convex glass used to make the mirror gave the mirror its name.

Other Federal convex mirrors include the porthole mirror, named for its resemblance to ship portholes framed in brass. Even though the Great Seal with the American eagle was not adopted until June 20, 1782, many Federal convex mirrors included an eagle standing on a Corinthian, Doric or an Ionic column — a Grecian column defined by a flat top and scrolls that curl under — surmounted to the midpoint of the mirror frame at the top with branches or other decorative designs on either side of the column.

Eagles were also used on European convex mirrors before America adopted it as its symbol. Other decorative embellishments on the round frame included leaves, flowers, pussy willows, round buttons, olive branches and wheat bundles.

The glass is often an indicator of a mirror’s age. Modern sheet glass is typically smooth and free of bubbling, thanks to manufacturing techniques that weren’t known in centuries past. The mirror-like coating on the back of an antique mirror, whether made with tin and mercury or a thin sheet of silver, tarnishes or oxidizes over time. This results in dark or blotchy spots visible through the glass when looking at the front of the mirror.


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