Picking up an old mirror may shock people who don’t expect it to weigh so much more than modern mirrors.
However, many people prefer old mirrors thanks to their appearance and link to the past.
Homeowners can use antique mirrors to enhance the aesthetics of any home, modern or classic, but it may require more effort than anticipated to properly move and hang the heavy mirror, especially if unprepared.
Old mirrors require strong materials and glass to maintain their structure after hundreds of years.
However, exactly what allows them to weigh so much (and cost so much more) compared to contemporary mirrors?
Are the old mirrors worth it?
We cover the top ten reasons old mirrors are so heavy, and why they make the most of every pound.
10 Reasons Old Mirrors Are So Heavy
When you understand why old mirrors weigh so much, you can learn to appreciate them for every ounce of beauty they provide.
Here are 10 reasons old mirrors are so heavy that we will cover in detail.
The very first modern mirrors out of Venice contained mercury.
The process of making mirrors became a well-kept industry secret that people took with them to their graves.
Unfortunately, the mercury used in the construction of mirrors contributed to the death of numerous mirror makers due to the toxicity of that element.
Most artisans made the switch to silver nitrate after mirror makers tended to die after 10 years of constant exposure.
In order to determine if you have mercury in your mirror, you can touch a pen to the glass.
If the point appears to align in the reflection on the glass, it is most likely a modern mirror.
An older mirror will not appear completely even.
Do you need another way to determine if your mirror contains mercury?
Look for a sparkling shimmer behind the glass.
If you do have an antique mirror that contains mercury, you do not need to consider it dangerous unless it breaks.
However, treat the mirror with care or risk self-inflicted mercury exposure.
Mercury has a higher risk of getting into the air if the mirror breaks.
If you have children or pets, it can be advisable to keep the mirror in a room they don’t have access to or risk an accident.
If you suspect mercury from your mirror managed to lower the quality of the air inside your house, test the Air Quality Index (AQI) using a kit you can use yourself or hiring an HVAC technician.
If tests indicate high levels of mercury, you may need to find a place for the mirror outside or dispose of it properly.
Do not dispose of an antique mirror before getting an appraisal.
While most vintage mirrors only have moderate monetary value, some items may surprise you with their worth.
2. Decorative Frame
The frame for a wall mirror needs to hold the glass and also act as decoration.
Most designers attempt to get dual use out of an antique mirror as both a functional mirror and a conversation piece thanks to an ornate frame.
Frames from different eras have distinct shapes and design characteristics.
Large, thick frames weigh much more than a smooth minimalistic plastic or light metal frame people use today.
Even handheld mirrors from very early times weighed more since they were made out of ivory, silver, and other sturdy materials.
While not all frames from the era follow these exact specifications, the information can help you determine the age and style of your mirror.
- Gothic (early 1600s)—arches, dark oak, detailed engravings
- Baroque (late 1600s to 1700)—oval, gold and silver, cherubs, garlands
- Rococo (early 1700s to middle 1700s)—rectangular, mahogany and walnut, bronzing
- Neoclassical (middle 1700s to 1800)—oval, gold and silver, branches/leaves
- Georgian (early 1700s to middle 1700s)—symmetrical, veneer over oak
- Regency (late 1700s to early 1800s)—gold or mahogany, convex mirror
- Victorian (1800 to 1900)—rectangular, oversized, ornate, metal or dark wood
The elaborate engravings tend to fit seamlessly with classic and rustic decor, but don’t feel limited to a particular design style because of a mirror.
Many people love an old mirror so much they hang it up in their sleek, modern home.
It can actually provide an attractive and interesting visual juxtaposition that can enhance the look of a room instead of the mirror appearing out of place.
In some cases, the designs transcended attractive home decor to the level of art.
As an example, just look at the beautiful rock crystal and gemstone mirror from the early 1700s.
The rock crystal, or quartz, which makes up the mirror provided a great quality reflection.
The frame consists entirely of expensive gemstones that not only scream extravagance but also look outstanding.
3. Symbol Of Wealth
People used mirrors as a symbol of wealth hundreds of years ago when people couldn’t show off with luxury cars or brand-name clothing and accessories.
Royalty in particular needed to demonstrate the prosperity of their kingdoms, so they would hang elaborate mirrors throughout their palaces for other people to get a quick glimpse of themselves throughout the night.
While looking into the mirror, guests will (hopefully) marvel at the opulence of the owner and assume they are successful.
The showiness didn’t end so well for Marie Antoinette and King Louie XIV, of course.
While the common folk didn’t appreciate the showiness while they begged for overpriced bread scraps, they removed the regime but kept the gorgeous mirrors.
People with exquisite taste still use vintage mirrors as a symbol of wealth and style today.
However, with all of the other luxuries of modern life, it doesn’t have quite the same impact as it did hundreds of years ago.
Expensive, gaudy mirrors required the most expensive materials, such as gold and silver.
Naturally, these materials weigh more than cheaper materials.
Both a 50-gram gold bar and a 50-gram silver bar will weigh approximately 0.11 pounds.
The same size bar of stainless steel, on the other hand, weighs 0.01 lbs.
Not only did the frames contain heavy precious metals, but they were large in size and usually contained numerous figures and embellishments.
Even if the mirror manufacturer decided to use a wooden frame, it would be thick, heavy wood.
4. Hanging Materials
Naturally, you need to find the proper materials to hang your mirror.
Heavy mirrors require heavy hanging materials, contributing to the overall weight.
You have a number of different options when it comes to hanging your antique mirror, including:
- Cross Brackets
Verify the weight of your mirror and choose hanging equipment designed to support the weight or even more weight.
Before hanging your vintage mirror, verify that the drywall can properly support the weight.
Water damage can significantly diminish the strength of drywall, so only hang a mirror on a wall that doesn’t currently have water stains and has a low risk of developing water damage in the future.
You should also consider hanging the mirror using the studs in the wall for additional support.
Use a level to ensure the mirror rests evenly.
Then support the mirror around the entire frame so that it doesn’t move on the wall freely.
Multiple fasteners will prevent the mirror from falling if one item breaks or comes loose.
Avoid hanging the mirror using one solitary hook if you can.
Avoid hanging a mirror on the ceiling as the gravity of the mirror will put additional strain on the structure of your room.
Luckily, some mirrors don’t need to be hung since they come in one complete package that stands on its own.
In many cases, the mirror came as part of a single piece with material to support the mirror.
You can place these mirrors anywhere without having to attach them to the wall.
These make the best option for a person’s dressing room since they can show someone an accurate image of their appearance before leaving for the day.
Some solitary mirrors allow you to flip the mirror.
Some also have wheels that make it easy to move from one place to another.
5. Thick Glass
Old mirrors used thick glass (usually ½” thick) designed to last.
Since mirrors weren’t as readily available as they are today, the thin glass wouldn’t suffice.
Today, most mirrors use glass roughly ¼” thick.
The glass may break more easily, but it’s far less expensive.
Plus, glass today comes with modern protection to help prevent items from breaking.
Thickness doesn’t only impact the durability of the mirror but also the quality of the image.
Any glass less than ¼” thick will produce a distorted image, and no one wants a funky picture when putting on eyeliner.
Old glass contains a yellow or gray hue to it that you won’t see in new glass.
It also shows its imperfections, so you will most likely see waviness or bubbles in old glass.
Modern glass does not show imperfections.
It’s important to remember that even some old mirrors can have replacement glass, and this can change the value of the mirror.
Verify whether the mirror in your family heirloom has its original glass or not by talking to a professional appraiser.
If you break the glass of an old mirror, don’t assume you are doomed to have bad luck.
If anything, it’s an opportunity to update the mirror.
You can replace the glass with modern glass if you choose.
However, if you want to stick to antique glass, you can find that as well.
Just keep in mind many artisans won’t use glass with mercury in it.
Mirrors work by reflecting an image to whoever looks into the mirror.
While the image is backward and possibly a slightly different size in the mirror, it projects an almost perfect picture.
The coating in the back of the glass provides the reflective properties of the mirror.
Today, many mirrors use aluminum.
Older mirrors use a silver coating that weighs more than aluminum.
In fact, silver weighs 655 lbs./ft³, and aluminum weighs 170 lbs. /ft³.
Many mirror manufacturers switched to aluminum instead of silver to cut down on the costs and weight.
There are three ways that mirrors portray an image depending on the type of mirror:
- Panel mirror—exact size, does not change.
- Concave mirror—larger size, increases by moving the mirror away.
- Convex mirror—smaller size, decreases by moving the mirror away.
Panel mirrors work best for everyday use as it provides the most accurate portrayal of the images in it, especially a full-length mirror.
Many beauties use concave handheld mirrors that amplify the face and every single pore, making it easier to apply makeup.
Clearly, people had the same need years ago, even if makeup styles look much different nowadays.
Convex mirrors capture a large area since they make things smaller, making them ideal for security and safety.
You can find convex mirrors used in numerous industries outside of fashion and beauty, such as automobiles.
7. Full Length
Some touchups only require the help of a small mirror that only shows the viewer the face.
The first mirrors were handheld, so they served these purposes just fine.
However, people needed full-size mirrors to examine their Victorian gowns to ensure their petticoat wasn’t showing or that they didn’t get lead makeup on their dress.
Naturally, full-length mirrors weigh much more than handheld mirrors due to their size.
Full-length mirrors come in various dimensions, but they also come in a rectangular shape a couple feet longer than wide.
Tall people, in particular, may run into a problem.
Ideally, a mirror should provide an additional six inches in case someone wears a large hat or head ornament.
Most people put a full-length mirror in the bathroom or bedroom to give them the chance to check their appearance before they leave.
Since full-length mirrors are a larger size, they take in more light, brightening up a space, too.
This makes them increasingly popular in living rooms and other shared spaces that can benefit from some natural light.
8: Natural Light
Years ago, people didn’t have electricity for light.
Instead, designers needed to create light naturally with the items available to them.
Mirrors became extremely helpful in the creation of light in rooms throughout a home.
When done thoughtfully, incoming light will hit the mirrors and bounce off them to illuminate a particular room and anyone in it.
Natural light makes people look healthier and more attractive.
Any room with plenty of natural light and mirrors can make a great backdrop for pictures.
Of course, it always helps when you increase the brightness with a giant smile as well.
Louis XIV, the Sun King, created the famous Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.
This famous room was a masterpiece when first revealed to the world.
It still receives thousands upon thousands of tourists every year.
Go early since large crowds can sometimes dim the effect of the mirrors.
9. Theft Protection
Mirrors didn’t reflect only the image but the kingdom and the people in it.
Unfortunately, some common folk can’t afford a decorative mirror and may find themselves tempted to steal one from the rich people they encounter.
They will run into trouble, though, thanks to the weight.
The aristocracy became aware of unrest.
Making large, heavy mirrors ensured that guests and staff can’t run off with a mirror.
Not only will someone notice the comically awkward theft, but someone probably can’t make off with an antique mirror alone.
Most starving peasants will leave the mirror and opt to steal bread or something else more practical.
Luckily, the heavy mirrors usually stayed in place for us to enjoy years later—usually.
The famed Mirror of Great Britain, once part of the exclusive Crown Jewels owned by the monarchy, has a complicated history that involves multiple attempts to pawn and steal the valuable mirror/piece of art.
At this time, it has found its way back to the famous Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
10. Weight Of History
An antique mirror carries the weight of every reflection it has captured throughout the years and the weight that comes with each smile and scowl.
The mirror holds the anxiety of a man in 1800 getting ready to court a new love interest or a woman in 1920 voting for the first time.
Those memories live on, and you add to it when you look in the mirror yourself, whether going to a casual dinner with friends or playing dress-up with your kid.
The mirror carries each and every good and bad memory with it throughout the years.
While you may not see the additional weight on the scale, you feel it every time someone asks about the item’s history.
The weight transfers from the mirror to you, making it even harder to move than you ever anticipated thanks to the additional sentimental weight.
Everyone expects mirrors to weigh a lot, but antique mirrors tend to weigh even more.
A good mirror will last through historical events, personal growth, and tragedy from generation to generation.
Mirrors only have the ability to show an image in real time momentarily until it disappears out of frame, so do your part to capture your favorite images as you notice them to make the images that much more special to you and the next people who get to enjoy it.