Mirrors and looking glasses. Used in the 18th and 19th centuries not only for checking out your appearance, but also for
reflecting limited light coming from windows, candles, or lamps. And showcasing your wealth. ‘Looking glass’ was the typical term for large sheets of mirrored glass framed and hung on a wall. The term ‘mirror’ was used for very specific types of looking glasses (often convex and round) as well as reflective surfaces. Confused yet?
Regardless of the terminology, to have a looking glass in your interior was a sign of status. The larger the better. The sheets of glass were more than likely imported from England and either shipped with their frames or place within domestic frames when they got to America. Plain frames were one price, adding gilding or carving or other decorative motifs raised the price incrementally. A large gilded frame with carved borders and floral sprigs attached? Pow!
We don’t know for certain the kinds of looking glasses that the Lee family owned, although their household inventories from 1758 and 1776 list ‘glasses’ in the house. The later generations likely owned looking glasses as well, and I am currently surveying all of the looking glasses in the collection to understand what we have and what we may need to add to the collection in the future as we restore rooms in the Great House.
-Gretchen Goodell, Curator