How to Determine the Value of an Old Mirror

The ornately carved mirror hangs above the fireplace silently guarding it secrets. It is an exquisite addition to your sitting room and a conversation piece long admired by family and friends. Having never given it much thought, you now find yourself curious as to the old mirror’s lineage and value. The discovery process will require a bit of determination and detective work on your part. By employing a combination of physical inspection, research and expert advice, you can uncover its past and find out just how much your old mirror is worth.

You've owned the mirror for years, yet know nothing of its past or value.
You've owned the mirror for years, yet know nothing of its past or value. | Source

Where to Start?

In most cases, a direct correlation exists between the age of a mirror and its value. Mass-produced examples from the early 20th century do not command the same price as handcrafted antique mirrors from the 1800s and earlier. So, zeroing in on the time your mirror was made will be the first step in determining its value. Begin by performing a thorough inspection of your mirror to see if you can gather enough information to make an educated guess as to its age.

Examine Your Mirror

1. Check the Mirror Glass

The reflective silver mercury backing of an entique mirror breaks down and oxidizes over time, appearing as random cloudy spots around the edges and across the mirror surface. If the mottled patches on your mirror look too uniform, it may be a reproduction mirror plate. Glass color is another indicator of age. Old mirror glass has a distinctive yellow or gray cast. Colorless glass indicates a modern mirror or replacement mirror glass. Unfortunately, both instances will negatively affect the value of your mirror.

Good Info to Help Identify Antique Mirror Glass

2. Inspect the Back

The back of your old mirror also reveals much about its age. Antique mirrors typically feature a wood rather than a paper backing. Examine the construction to ensure all nails, screws and hangers are true to the period. Hand-forged fasteners will look extremely crude and irregular compared to modern, machine-made versions. Inspect the back for a mark or tag indicating the maker and place of origin.

3. Look for Clues in the Frame

The overall condition and material used to make a mirror frame plays an important role in valuation. Look for imperfections that differentiate a handmade mirror from a pristine reproduction. The frame should show reasonable signs of wear and even minor damage. Old frame materials include solid wood, wood veneer, plaster composition or metal. Examine the mirror frame for extensive restorative work. An sloppy or obvious repair job will detract from its value.

Check the Condition of Your Mirror Frame

Antique mirror frames can be made from wood, metals or a composition material such as plaster.
Antique mirror frames can be made from wood, metals or a composition material such as plaster. | Source

4. Take Note of Fakes

There are some really talented people out there whose sole purpose is to fool us into thinking we own a valuable an antique mirror, when in fact it is a artfully crafted reproduction. They do an excellent job replicating old mirror glass, frames and even hand-wrought hardware. If you find yourself completely stumped when examining your old mirror, try some of the following tips to further determine if your mirror is the "real deal".

Research Online Antique Sites

Check reputable online antique sites for similar mirrors. A broad search of "antique mahogany mirrors" can produce millions of results and leave you highly frustrated. Look at online photos of old mirrors to identify a time period and style. Once you have a rough idea of the age and style of your mirror, use a combination of descriptive keywords to narrow your search as much as possible.

Words such as "Georgian", "Regency", "Empire", "Louis" or "Victorian" will refer to the monarchy at the time the mirror was made. You can also use keywords like "baroque", "directoire", "gothic" or "neoclassical" which indicate the style of the mirror and also point to a time of manufacture. In addition to giving an idea of value, online antique sites often include details about each mirror—information that may provide insight into the history and rarity of your mirror. Corroborate your findings by consulting multiple online antique and auction sites.

Characteristics of Antique Mirrors From Different Periods

Period
Years
Characteristics
Gothic
Early 1600s and prior
Pointed arch shape, linen folds, elaborate carvings, dark oak
Baroque
Early 1600s to 1700
Oval, gilding in gold and silver, cherubs, carved foliage and garlands
Rococo
Early to mid 1700s
Rectangular, walnut and mahogany, gilding and bronzing, shell motifs, highly ornate
Neoclassical
Mid 1700s to early 1800s
Oval with flat base, gilded gold or silver, restrained, leaves branches and urn motifs
Georgian
Early to mid 1700s
Rectangular or oval, symmetrical, veneer over oak, fretwork scrolls
Regency
Late 1700s to early 1800s
Oval or round, mahogany or gold gild, leaf motifs, Eagle and flags, convex mirror
Victorian
Early 1800s to 1900
Oversize and rectangular, metal or dark wood, heavy ornamentation

Visit Free Appraisal Events

Not everyone is lucky enough to go to an Antiques Roadshow event. However, you can find ethical antique dealers, auction houses and organizations that offer free appraisal events and services. Contact your local antique society for events in your area. Visit reputable antique dealers offering free appraisal services. Never rely on the opinion of a single dealer, visit several to get a good feel for your mirror’s actual worth.

Try Your Luck at a Free Appraisal Event

Find an antique appraisal event in your area and go on a quest for your mirror's history and value!
Find an antique appraisal event in your area and go on a quest for your mirror's history and value! | Source

Hire an Appraiser

If your investigative work to this point suggests you might own a valuable, old mirror, consider investing in a certified appraisal. An antique appraisal will lend credibility to your research and establishes value. Written appraisals consist of a complete item description, an opinion of fair market retail value and an indication of replacement value for insurance purposes. Appraisers charge flat fees or hourly rates, which can set you back several hundred dollars based on the amount of information requested.

About Antique Appraisals

© 2014 lindacee

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Start a Conversation! 33 comments

greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 2 years ago from Malaysia

Very interesting read.

I am freaking scared of old mirrors and if you got hold of the 'wrong mirror' you can end up in a mess! There's an old Chinese believe, which I tend to agree, that bad energy can come from old things esp. mirrors that belongs to others. However, if the previous owners are 'OK' it may not be that bad after all!


carlajbehr profile image

carlajbehr 2 years ago from NW PA

Interesting - I have a couple of old mirror. Nothing too ornate though. Thanks for sharing.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

greatstuff, I hadn't heard about the negative energy from old mirrors/antiques. Wonder how you would find out if the mirror has bad energy attached to it from a previously evil owner. Maybe there are people that can "read" the energy of old items. Sounds like a good subject for a Hub. You should write it, greatstuff! Thanks for reading and commenting! :)


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

carlabehr, maybe you should do some research on your mirrors. Just because they are not ornate, doesn't mean they aren't valuable. Glad you stopped by to read and comment! Thanks! :)


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I do have an old mirror that fits a couple of your descriptions. It is quite big and we have to carefully hang it with balanced and support. Mirrors add so much to a room.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

teaches, maybe you do some detective work. Do you know anything about it? Even if you don't intend to sell it, it is fun to dig around and find out about its history. Thanks for dropping in for a read and comment! :)


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 2 years ago from Peru, South America

I love your introductory paragraph! I believe some antique mirrors have passed through my hands and I wish I had them still. I will definitely watch for these characteristics next time: the wooden backing and mottled edges. Thank you!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

vespawoolf, I had an old family mirror that was passed down, but it was not an antique or valuable. Every time I wander through antique stores looking at mirrors, I check for period construction methods and those telltale cloudy spots of the mirror itself. So glad you enjoyed this Hub. It was fun to write! :)


joedolphin88 profile image

joedolphin88 2 years ago from north miami FL

Interesting technique didn't know the extent of info needed to value mirrors.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

joedophin88, unfortunately there are a lot of fakes out there, so it does require a great deal of effort to determine whether it's actually a valuable, old mirror. Thanks for reading and commenting!


mac 2 years ago

I have a mirror that's well over 40. I have no clue how long my grandma owned it before me and its Past Georges. Said to have been in a very old movie. How can I find more history on it?


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

mac, I would suggest taking several photos of your mirror and take them to a local antiques dealer to see if they can help you determine its age and relevant history. Also take photos of any marks that would indicate the maker. You can also look on websites that deal with antiques--maybe you'll find a similar mirror that will provide some clues. Good luck with your search!


Darcy 18 months ago

My dear (elderly) friend paid about $100.00 for a large/framed & matted/heavy/beveled mirror more than 50 years ago. There are no markings that I can find, but I'm very curious to know if it's worth anything (to go for her long-term care). I have picked of it if anyone (in the NYC area!) is interested.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 12 months ago from Ontario, Canada

I have several old mirrors but I really have no idea of their age or value. Maybe it is time to do some research.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 12 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

aesta1, yes if you have the time and resources to devote to the research, it may be well worth it. You never know what you'll find out! Good luck!


reflexshawn 12 months ago

I have had an old mirror that I bought in a jumble sale many years ago, its oval and about 30' at the widest point, its constructed of brass that was once silver plated, there is a small scrolled bit at the top and weirdest of all, the mirror is backed with paper thin lead. I'd welcome any light that could be shed as regards to age and stuff..


lindacee profile image

lindacee 12 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

reflexshawn, sounds like a lovely mirror and great find! If I were you I would take to a local antiques dealer to see if they can shed any light on its age and origin--they may even be able to give you a ballpark estimate on value. Hopefully the evaluation won't cost you anything.


Lorri 8 months ago

I'd heard along time ago. If you hold a lit match close to the surface of the mirror, the reflection 'before' and 'after' the direct reflection was supposed to be a way to tell how old a mirror is. I don't know the specifics though. I do however remember that the mirror could have been in a warehouse, or on a shelf etc... Before being mounted in the frame or whatever the case may be.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 8 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Lorri, I've not heard of the lit match to determine a mirror's age. I did a cursory Google search and didn't find anything definitive. And yes, an antique mirror could have been used for a totally different purpose before being framed and used in a residence.


Bobbie 6 months ago

well I just bought a beautiful old mirror. It must have had good vibes and wanted me cause I was mesmerized by it. I have a feeling it is very old and hope to find out the worth.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 5 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Sounds like a beautiful find Bobbie. Good luck with your search. Hopefully it is worth a lot!


Joy Jaeger 5 months ago

Anyone know what a 'COPPER MARK" stamped on back of a Victorian mirror (age 1864) heavy ornate plaster of paris gold gilded design, means?

Joy


Stacy Koontz 4 months ago

I came to ur post after some googling about older mirrors due to being curious about an old mirror my parents have had as long as I can remember and is going to be past down to me. It is huge! It is all mirror, no wood frame or anything of that sort. It is bordered with more mirror that has a curvy edge that comes to a point in the center of the frame, kind of like the shape of craft tags I've seen. Also has some etched floral design on the mirrored border part and the border bends outward towards you. I can't wait to get this in my hands but at the same time, it's hard to say that, knowing that if I have it, it will be a sad time as my parents would have to have pasted for me to have it. I, in no way, would ever want to sell it. But absolutely would want to know more about it and know it's worth. To me, it's priceless! I don't remember what the back looks like. It's so big that it takes a few people to lift. I figured I'd comment and see if you ever heard of such a mirror like this one or know anything else about it. One day I will be able to look at the back when it's down again and can take more notice to it. If we could post pictures I would have but I don't see an attachment button. Well, thanks for your post. It was so helpful!!


Julie Nicholson 3 months ago

i had a museum curator at Westminster Abbey tll me that to help determine the age of your mirror check the depth of the reflection. if you hold your finger against a modern mirror the reflection will touch the finger; in an older mirror there will de a gap - depth - to the reflection. I have a HUGE 5ft x 5ft Georgian (I think) mirror with lots of fogging/peeling and the gap between my finger and the reflection is about 1/2 inch! really need to get this beauty valued.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 3 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Stacy, sorry for the delayed response. I am not familiar with your particular mirror design. Hopefully someday you can have someone knowledgeable take a look at it and give you an idea of its origins and value. So happy you found my article helpful!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 3 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Julie, that's fantastic! Your mirror sounds like one of those great finds like you see on Antiques Roadshow. The Westminster Abbey curator's suggestion is very helpful -- I had not heard that one. Thank you so much for contributing to the discussion. You do really need to get your mirror appraised! Good luck!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 3 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Joy, I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment. I've done some cursory research on the "COPPER MARK" stamp and have come up empty-handed. Now that your comment is live, maybe someone out there can share information regarding the origins/value of your mirror.


TANIA 2 months ago

I Came across this old looking mirror at a thrift store.. It has a interesting carved looking frame and there is a M # with 5 numbers after it ? Any ideals as to what that is?


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 months ago from Southern Arizona Author

Tania, I'm not sure what that mark would be. I did a little research and couldn't come up with anything. Thanks and I hope you are able to find out more about it.


Doreen 2 weeks ago

Hi, I have a mirror that has th paper sticker behind it that says it about 100yrs old. It is spotted and very heavy with an old Wooden frame . A piece of the frame is missing. I liked having it because it so old. I have learned a lot on your column. It a rectangular shape abt 5ft high. Do u think that this mirror has some worth? Thank You


lindacee profile image

lindacee 2 weeks ago from Southern Arizona Author

Doreen, I'm happy you were able to get some useful information from my article! The size alone would increase the value and if the age corresponds to the sticker, you could have something of worth. Good luck!


Charles 11 days ago

I have a hand carved wood mirror that at one time was gold in color, you can still see traces of gold in the crevices. Anyway, we had never noticed before because it's a little faint, but on the back it has a dull black stamp is what I would call it that reads MT VERNON MAHOGANY and there's a little more under it that I can't make out. Every time I search on line all that comes up in George Washington's estate.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 10 days ago from Southern Arizona Author

Interesting, Charles. I couldn't come up with anything specific regarding the stamp. I think it would be worth getting an opinion (for free, of course) from a local antiques dealer, if possible. Sorry I can't provide any definitive information. Hope you are able to find out more about it!

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