There are several good reasons for putting a mirror on your wall, and it isn’t necessarily just for you to check on your hair on the way out! It can enhance natural light – by placing a large mirror directly across from a window you will bring additional light into the room, and with the mirror reflecting incoming light, it will naturally make the room feel brighter.
It can create the feel of a larger room - a floor-to-ceiling mirror (a trick you often see on sliding bedroom closet doors) gives the illusion of a larger space, or you can accentuate furniture or a room feature – by hanging a mirror above the mantle, a sofa, (or even above the bed, if you are that way inclined), or another feature you want to highlight, it will naturally draw the eye to that spot. And it will add flair – a backsplash of mirrored tiles in the kitchen or bathroom adds sparkle and reflects colours in the room.
Specially waterproofed mirrors can be used with good effect in the garden too, reflecting back greenery. For example, a framed collection of maybe six or eight mirrors each 20 cms or so placed at the top half of a plain door to look like windows can create an optical illusion by using the reflection to appear as if the door opens out into another garden. Or another trick – putting a similar collection of mirrors on the blank side of a shed, and maybe adding shutters and a small window box beneath – the plants don’t even have to be real ones, it is just to add interest and colour to a plain boring old wooden shed!
On a personal level, being concerned with one’s reflection and exact appearance is a pretty modern invention, one most humans across history lived without - so they say. I am not so sure, I think people in past times were looking at themselves in pools of water – curiously maybe – as this was probably the only reflective surface they had, and a somewhat distorted image it would have been too, and I would put money on it that cavewomen would be checking themselves out to ensure the only available caveman dragged her off and not her neighbour!
The earliest known mirrors were made from polished stone, and dated back as far as 6,000 BC, and were from Anatolia, or Asia Minor, which takes up the best part of western Turkey. Later, they were made from highly polished copper or lead and were hand-held, but actually only reflected 20% of the light they were exposed to.
It wasn’t until as late as 1835 that Justus von Liebig, a German chemist, developed the silvered-glass mirror we know today, where a thin layer of metallic silver is put onto glass by the chemical reduction of silver nitrate. Modern mirrors have silver, aluminium or chrome backs due to their high reflectivity, and often have a thin coating of paint on the back to protect the fragile reflective coating from corrosion or scratching. When mirrors are exposed to excess moisture, water can get between the layer of silver and the backing, which causes the bond to break and the silvering to chip off behind the glass. This leaves your mirror with unsightly dark spots or black edges where the silver has fallen away, which is usually a sign that the mirror itself is quite old.
I found this interesting - Mercury glass, also known as silvered glass, contains neither mercury nor silver. It’s actually clear glass, mold-blown into double-walled shapes and coated on the inside with a silvering formula, which is inserted through a small hole that is then sealed with a plug. A few manufacturers did, for a time, try to line their glass with a mercury solution; this practice was discontinued due to expense and toxicity, but it helps explain the origin of the misnomer.
Mirrors aren’t always flat either - convex mirrors are often used at traffic intersections to help you see around tight corners, and concave mirrors are used in car headlights and in flashlights, to focus light into a long straight beam. And you can find mirrors that are distorted, in that they are both concave and convex in the same mirror - okay for fun houses and carnivals, but not for everyday use!