Mirrors have been used since ancient times. The Greeks and Romans used polished metal disks. It was not until the 16th century in Venice that someone came up with the idea of using a thin piece of glass backed by a reflecting piece of metal.
By 1835, a German scientist made mirrors by coating a piece of glass with metallic silver. That method, with improvements, is used today. Glass mirrors were small at first because of the problem of making large pieces of glass, but by the 17th century the wealthy were buying large mirrors made in England, France or Venice.
By 1800, mirrors with frames were important decorative pieces. Some frames were made of silver, ivory or tortoiseshell, veneered with expensive woods or covered in needlework or beads. Carved wooden frames were made to match other household decorations, and soon a mirror over the mantel was almost required. Because glass was the expensive part of any mirror, the old glass was often used in a new frame when redecorating.
By the 19th century, a mirror was no longer a luxury. Mirrors were built into pieces of furniture, such as wardrobes and wall-mounted candleholders, and were hung on the wall to make a room look larger.
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If you have an old mirror with a broken frame or cloudy glass, resilver the glass and use it again. New glass is thinner and gives a whiter reflection than old glass.
You can test this by holding the edge of a white card against the glass. If the card and the reflection are the same white color, the mirror was made after 1850. If the reflection is more yellow or gray, the glass was made before 1850.
Mirrors in any traditional style can be found, some original, some reproductions. Even today, mirrors are popular room accessories.
Q: I have a hot plate pad from the 1930s made from bottle caps with crocheted covers. It's the shape of a bunch of grapes. Are these collectible?
A: Collectors of beer- and soda-bottle caps buy bottle-cap hot pads and take them apart hoping to find rare or collectible caps. William Painter patented the crown cork-lined cap and founded the Crown Cork & Seal Co. in Baltimore in 1892. The company is still in business. Early caps had 24 "teeth" and were made for beer bottles. Liners were solid cork. Composition cork liners were used beginning about 1915. A substitute for cork, called Nepro Cork, was invented in 1927. Plastic liners were used after the early 1960s. Cork-lined caps and caps from small breweries or brands that were not made in large quantities bring more money than later caps or caps from popular brands. Common bottle caps may sell for 25 cents, while rare caps sell for hundreds of dollars to serious collectors, some of whom might belong to the Crowncap Collectors Society International. Its Web site is www.bottlecapclub.org.
Q: After cleaning out my grown children's rooms, I found a forgotten and nearly unused 1960s-era G.I. Joe action figure and footlocker. The locker is filled with uniforms, weapons, hats, ID tags, etc. —more than 40 pieces. Is it worth anything?
A: The 11 1/2-inch G.I. Joe action figure (never referred to as a "doll") was introduced by Hasbro in 1964. At least seven different footlockers, either wood or plastic, were sold between 1965 and 1969. Most of them were marketed as "Adventure Packs" and contained all sorts of military equipment, from helmets to hand grenades. Some came with snowshoes and climbing rope. Depending on which footlocker you have and its condition, it could sell for $100 to $250 if you have the original packaging. The value of your action figure also depends on which model you have. Some sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars if you have the original box. Prices drop considerably if you don't have the original packaging or if any parts or pieces are missing.
Q: We own a framed reverse-painting on glass of an American battleship. The printed title on it is "USS Georgia, Preparedness." When did the U.S. Navy use this ship? And can you tell me who painted my picture?
A: Unless the painting is signed, the artist will remain unknown. Painting on the reverse side of glass has been popular in the United States for about 200 years, and it was done by professional artists as well as self-taught painters. The USS Georgia was commissioned in 1906 and served as a training and escort ship during World War I. It was decommissioned in 1920 and was sold for scrap three years later. The use of the word "Preparedness" in the title probably narrows the date of your painting to the years immediately before or during America's participation in World War I, 1917-18. The U.S. Naval Secretary, Josephus Daniels, started urging "preparedness" for war in his public speeches in 1915.