Antique Bullseye mirrors
Antique Bullseye mirrors are circular, convex, ornamental mirrors produced from the 17th century onwards.
Background and Description
Bullseye mirrors first became popular in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. The style was called ‘regency’ in England, and ‘empire’ in France, both of which were relatively similar, and the American ‘Federal’ style evolved directly from these. It varied mostly with its emphasis on patriotic symbols, such as an eagle at the top, and thirteen balls, feathers or stars around the frame to represent the thirteen original colonies to break free of the British Empire in the American Revolution from 1775-1783.
were popular in England and America in the 18th century. They are generally referred to as ‘Federal mirrors’, thus indicating they were most popular between 1789 and 1801.
These mirrors were displayed in dining rooms where entertainment was occurring. The outward bending glass allowed the butler and servers to see the entire room, where glasses needed refilling etc, while staying discreetly out of sight – they were in effect surveillance mirrors.
European Bullseye mirrors were circular, convex with a wide angle fish-eye concave glass, and ornamentally decorated. American Bullseye mirrors are the same, but decorated in a distinctly Federal style.
The mirrors are carved of wood and gilded with gold leaf. The round frame was adored with ornamentation in a neoclassical style, often topped with an eagle. While the eagle later became an American symbol, eagles are seen on the earlier European models too. The ornamentation in almost all cases is symmetrical.
If they have candleholders attached, they are ‘Girandole’ mirrors.
Collecting antique Bullseye mirrors
Bullseye mirrors have been produced for centuries, and are still produced today. A collector would generally choose to focus on a particular era of Bullseye mirrors, regency, empire or federal. Federal mirrors are particularly popular. Replicas have been produced as early as the 19th century, and these are considered collectible in their own right. Companies such as Syroco, founded in 1890, imitated the original wooden adornments and carvings using a wood compound and casting fluid poured into moulds, so were mass produced, and describe themselves as ‘in the Federal style’. These, while they are antiques and can still command high prices, are not original Bullseye mirrors.
Original Bullseye mirrors are much more difficult to come by. They can very occasionally be unearthed at flea markets, estate and house clearance sales and in antique stores. These examples may often lack their original convex glass, and the frames may show some damage or wear.
Much more available are plastic replicas produced from the mid 20th century onwards. These are not valuable.
Value of antique Bullseye mirrors depends entirely on age.
Ebay has sold ‘Federal style’ Bullseye mirrors for $10-$150. 19th century imitations have sold for up to $4,000 at auction.
Late 18th century Bullseye mirrors have sold at auction for $2,000 - $11,500.