We’ve all heard of the term “smoke and mirrors” to describe incredible feats. Well, not so many centuries ago, a mirror was its own incredible feat.

I know what you’re thinking. “A couple weeks ago we got a piece on penis enlargement and now you’re doing mirrors?!” Well, yes – yes, I am. Because 1. It’s interesting and 2. My oldest minion who has a penchant for staring at herself would avidly tout the importance of one’s reflection. Oh, and 3. It’s always something good to know when writing historicals.  J

So, how old are mirrors anyway?

Would you believe that the oldest mirrors date back to 6000 BC? I mean, they weren’t the kind you see today. They were primitive shards of carved and polished volcanic glass. As time went on, processes got a little more refined…and a little more costly.

Later times saw metals like copper and bronze flattened and polished into reflective surfaces. I imagine these would look kind of like those warped no-break metal mirrors in all the high schools now, less the filmy cleaning solution streaks.

As people became more advanced, so too did their methods. Glass was finally used along with all sorts of wonderful, healthy-for-us metals. There was hand blown glass dipped in lead, there was glass tinted or lined with mercury. Fine for the users, but I’m sure the manufacturers suffered for their labor.

Around the 1600’s Venice got in on the mirror industry and dominated it. No surprise there, right? Their mirrors were made with mercury and tin amalgams and were crazy expensive. So if you use a mirror in your book, make sure you have that person be very well off or you need to get a little more creative with your description. 😉

The modern day mirror we are all accustomed to didn’t come around until 1835 when some German guy made a sheet of glass with a metal coating the back for the reflective quality. That same concept is still used today with molten aluminum or silver sprayed onto the back of a sheet of glass.

What’s with mirrors and superstition anyway?

Like the native Americans who felt someone taking a picture of them would capture their soul, people in ancient times felt like seeing their reflection had an impact on their soul. Breaking a mirror was like the breaking of one’s soul. Fortunately, a shattered mirror in those times was like a damaged credit report today – you could recover if you waited long enough. In this case, the time happened to be seven years.

There is also a tradition in some countries (more prevalent in history than today) to cover mirrors when someone died. There are two popular beliefs for this act. The first is that if someone died  unexpectedly, especially through something violent like car accident or murder, their soul will use the mirror to look for a body to inhabit to finalize uncompleted tasks. Creepy, right? Kinda gave me chills when I read that. The second belief is that a fleeing soul will get distracted by the shiny reflection, fly to it and get trapped. I guess even souls have ADD.

So, there you have it folks, the truth behind mirrors. On a side note, when I die, will someone please cover a mirror? I’ve got a thing for shiny stuff….

  1. So, in the whole “mirror, mirror on the wall” with fairy tales, what kind of mirror do you think it was?

    Can you imagine how distorted your image would be on the older mirrors? Talk about self-esteem issues.

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