Antique Original Federal Convex Mirror (Looking Glass)

Federal convex mirrors (American Federal 1789 to 1830) made their way into the homes of the American elite and wealthy. The convex shape of these mirrors helped to illuminate the room when accompanied by candles.

This is an original antique Federal Eagle Convex Mirror, also called ‘looking glass.”  It is handcrafted from a hardwood and then overlaid by gold leaf or bronze gilt.  It appears to have later been sprayed with a black paint (which scratches off quite nicely).  The wood eagle had a repair to the wood.  The back brown paper had been replaced.  Original hanging wire.   Convex mirror is original and the silvering in mirror shows fading or hazing.  This particular mirror may be dated pre WWII or nearly so.  I am uncertain.  The Silvering in mirror shows fading or hazing.  Mirror may be restored by a reputable artisan, or may be used as is.  MEASUREMENTS (approx.): 13"H x 10" W x 3/4 D

TRIVIA/HISTORY  of this mirror — or “looking glass” as it would have been called when it was first introduced.

Neoclassical Influences

Artists and designers in both Europe and America were inspired by the classical designs associated with Greece and Rome. Regency, empire and federal furniture styles were characterized by use of columns, stylized plant representations and delicate ornamentation. All authentic antique mirror frames were made of wood and gilded with gold leaf. Some were inlaid with ebony. A few were given octagonal frames, but the most common shape was round.

The Eagle

To the traditionally round shape of the convex mirror, ornamentation was added to the top, bottom and sides. Even though the eagle eventually became an American symbol, older European mirrors were frequently topped with eagles in all sorts of poses. Presumably Europeans appreciated the eagle for the same reason that Americans found the bird admirable: its strength and independence.

Symmetrical Ornamentation

Above all, convex mirror designs are symmetrical, both from side to side and from top to bottom. The ornamentation on the sides of the round frame is the mirror image of the other. It may involve all sorts of natural or stylized flowers and leaves, sheaves of grain, bundles of olive branches, candle sconces and more. The eagle or other elaborate design tops the frame and may be accompanied with a small shelf. The bottom of the frame is ornamented and perfectly balanced with a hanging shape also based on neoclassical ideas, but representations of animal or human forms are rare except for the eagle.

Federal Style

Federal-style mirrors combine all the characteristics of the European designs but are most often topped with eagles which had, by the end of the 18th century, become a symbol of American independence and tenacity. Often federal designs included symbolic representations of the 13 original colonies in the form of balls, feathers or stars. Other symbols, like spears or arrows, may represent the fight for independence.