Monday, 30 November -0001

Mirrors and Superstition

Mirrors and superstitions go together, discovers Sam Taylor

Written by Sam Taylor
In 1835, the same year Rock House was built, a German chemist called Justus von Liebig invented the modern mirror. Before then, the chance to see what you looked like before leaving the house had been the reserve of those rich enough to buy Italian Murano glass – so precious that the 17th-century glass-blowers were banned from emigrating or revealing the tricks of their trade. By fixing a thin layer of silver nitrate to the back of the glass, von Liebig opened up a new market in decorative mirrors for normal households.

From the Regency period onwards, mirrors were used to maximise the light in a room – helpful when shutters and curtains were often kept closed – and to enlarge the appearance of a space. Fireplace overmantel mirrors offered a flattering light, lit by the fire below, but also the increased chance that your floor-length frock would go up in flames.

Most households would have also had a convex mirror and many still do. Neat design never goes out of fashion. Although the reflection is heavily distorted (they’re not to be recommended for applying make-up), the slightly battered version I have just hung at the top of my stairs reminds me of my grandmother’s hallway. When they were first invented, convex mirrors were often sited above the dining-room sideboard so that the staff serving the meal could keep an eye on the guests while at the same time having their back discreetly turned.

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Not many of us still have serving staff , but most of us have superstitions, including the dread of breaking a mirror and being cursed with seven years bad luck – a curse that originated with the Romans and their belief that it took seven years for the soul to be renewed. The antidote apparently is to collect all the pieces and then bury them in the ground, although I’m not sure how deep the bits are supposed to go.

Then there is the belief that a mirror falling off the wall is said to be a sign that someone is about to die, although it could also be a sign that your nail just wasn’t strong enough. My neighbour Nigel told me that if someone does die I will need to hang a cover over the mirrors to avoid their soul’s reflection being trapped by the devil. I might adopt that one; after all, nobody likes seeing a sad face.

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