The mirror of the ancient Greeks and Romans was a disk of metal with a highly polished face, sometimes with a design on the back, and usually with a handle. Glass mirrors date from the Middle Ages. They were made in large quantities in Venice from the 16th cent., the back being covered with a thin coating of tin mixed with mercury; after 1840 a thin coating of silver was generally substituted. The introduction of plate glass for mirrors (17th cent.) stimulated the use of large stationary mirrors as part of household furniture. Small bits of silvered glass were much used in the East to adorn articles of dress and of decoration. The metal trench hand mirror of World War I revived the manufacture of mirrors of this type. More recently, aluminum was introduced as the reflecting material because it is almost as efficient as silver but is more resistant to oxidation. Mirrors play an important part in the modern astronomical telescope.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.