Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary

Styles - Mirrors

Gilded decorative scrolls, etc.: Many of the shaped mirror frames faced with either walnut or mahogany veneer also have raised and gilded decorative scrolls and the like. These are of a puttylike composition, pressed in molds and glued to the face of the frame before gilding.

Gilding: The method of gilding all frames, either partially or wholly, was the same. It was done only with gold leaf prepared in sheets about two by three inches in size. All gold leaf was made of pure gold, beaten tissue thin between leather skins with heavy mallets.

A gilding compound applied paintlike with a brush was never used. Such gold paints have no real gold in their mixture and are a mid-nineteenth-century invention.

For gold leafing, the portion to be gilded is first coated with gesso (whiting and glue mixed in water) to make the surface smooth. When dry, it is painted with a light coat of "tack" varnish which makes the gold leaf adhere readily.

After the leafing is finished, the frame is rubbed with small bats of lamb's wool which tightens the bond of gold leaf and tack and removes loose, over-lapping fringes of the metal sheets.

Finally, the parts intended for a bright finish are burnished.

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Cast iron mirror


Chippendale: Chippendale fret-carved mahogany mirrors have narrow frame pieces of solid mahogany about an inch thick. Cresting, skirt and corner volutes are generally scroll-saw cut from mahogany under a half inch thick. These are glued to the frame pieces and reinforced by blocks glued on the back. Sometimes cresting and skirt are faced with crotch-grain veneer for decorative effect but more often are of solid wood with straight or slightly figured grain.

Console mirror

Pier glass

Primping mirror

Queen Anne

Renaissance Revival

Tramp Art


Victorian: Since ornate elegance was the theme of the more formal Victorian furniture, mirrors designed for use with such pieces generally had elaborate gilded frames (see above).

They are of three types:

  • Oval wall mirror
  • Overmantel mirror
  • Tall pier glass, generally with a low marble-topped base.

Frames consistently have raised decoration of applied flower or fruit motifs with foliage and scrolls and pierced cresting. Grapes are favorites; some frames are so heavily decorated with pendent bunches as to resemble a formalized trellis.
Less ambitious frames simulate rosewood combined with bead molding in gilt.

But whether ornate or simple, the frames are pine coated with gesso and either finished in gold leaf or painted and grained to resemble rosewood. The latter is most often found with the rectangular general-purpose mirror in a bold concave moldedframe.

Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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