We brush our hair and check our reflections every day, without thinking about the tools we use. Mirrors and brushes are simply items performing a function. But it wasn’t always like that. The vintage brush and mirror sets were decorative items and part of most women’s dresser sets.
You might have seen vintage mirrors and brushes used in old movies. Perhaps you have come across them in a garage sale or an antique shop. Maybe you have inherited a set that once belonged to a great-grandmother. But did you know many people enjoy collecting vintage and antique brush and mirror sets?
If you are interested in finding out more about these collectible items, you are in the right place. In this article, we have collected information on the history, types, and values of old brush and mirror sets.
History of vintage brush and mirror sets
In the past, the beautiful brush and mirror sets were treasured, often expensive, items that were passed down from mother to daughter. But what is the history behind these items? When did women, and men, first use mirrors and brushes and when did the sets become popular?
A brief history of mirrors
When were mirrors first used? The earliest examples of mirrors made from polished stone and black volcanic glass obsidian have been found in Turkey 6000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians used copper and bronze mirrors around 2900 BC.
Metal and polished stone mirrors were used in Central and South America around 2000 BC and the Chinese made mirrors from a mixture of tin and copper or bronze. These mirrors were valuable items and could only be afforded by the wealthy.
By the first century, the Romans were making mirrors from blown glass backed with lead. Because of the creation process, these mirrors only gave a dim reflection, and it wasn’t until around 500 AD that more reflective glass mirrors were created using a mix of silver and mercury.
As mirror-making improved from the 12 century, they became an essential part of a lady’s “toilette”. However, it wasn’t until the 1840s that silver was used instead of tin and mercury. It was also in the 19th century when mirrors became more widely available and not solely the privilege of the rich.
For a more detailed history of the mirror, visit this website.
A brief history of the hairbrush
In 1777, William Kent founded Kent Brushes in England and became the first known hairbrush manufacturer. However, the history of the hairbrush is a lot older than that and can be traced back to ancient times, much like the mirror.
There is little evidence of the inception date of the hairbrush. However, portraits of ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans show people with styled air. Archeologists have also found brushes inside Egyptian tombs.
The earliest brushes were made of bones and ivory and later wood, bronze, or copper and had stiff animal hairs for the bristles. The earliest brushes could only be afforded by the wealthy because each brush was hand-crafted.
Because they were such expensive items, hair brushes were usually bought and gifted on special occasions, including weddings and christenings. They were also a popular gift from a wealthy husband to his wife.
It wasn’t until 1885 when an Englishman Mason Pearson invented the automatic brush boring machine that hair brushes could be made faster and cheaper. In the same year, he also created a pneumatic-rubber cushioned brush. A new era of hairbrushes had begun.
You can find a more detailed history of hair brushes here.
When did brush and mirror sets become popular?
It is not known exactly when it became popular to purchase a brush and a mirror as a set. However, they became increasingly popular during the Victorian period. Most sets you find online or in antique shops or garage sales will date from 1885 until the 1930s.
Often mirrors and brushes were part of larger vanity sets that also included clothes brushes, a cream jar, and a button cup and sometimes you can find whole sets for sale.
Types and values of vintage and antique brush and mirror sets
Sometimes people use the words antique and vintage interchangeably, but they shouldn’t since they are not the same thing. The definition of antique applies to items that are at least one hundred years old, whereas vintage is more recent. For example, items from the sixties or seventies would be vintage.
Some types of brush and mirror sets are mostly classed as vintage because of when they were made. Others come in both vintage and antique sets. Below, we have included types of sets and examples of their values. The dates they originate from will give you guidance on whether they are vintage, or antique.
Bakelite is a trademarked synthetic resin that was invented in 1907 by a Belgian chemist, Leo Hendrik Baekeland. Because bakelite was inexpensive, it made it possible to manufacture large quantities of brushes.
Most sets you will find are from the 1920s to the 1960s. Because they were mass-produced and cheaper, they often sell for less than some other types of vanity sets, but they are still lovely vintage items.
Here are some examples of bakelite brush and mirror sets currently for sale online. Note that the prices for all the examples are in the currency shown on the website.
Green Bakelite Vanity Mirror and Brush Set – eBay $18.95
Art déco Brush & Mirror Set – Etsy €30.95
Vanity sets made of brass were popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Brass collects patina over the years, which can make it look dull. You can use a brass cleaner to polish them. However, some people like the effect of patina on brass.
Brass Floral Hand Mirror and Hair Brush Set – eBay $45.00
Rare 1920s Brass With Enameled Guilloche Mirror and Brush Set – eBay $259.99
Celluloid is the first synthetic plastic. It was developed in the 1860s and 1870s and is tough yet moldable. It is resistant to water and oils and cheap to produce, which made it a popular material for toiletry items, including brush and mirror sets.
Vanity sets in this category were at the peak of their popularity during the early 20th century and often had art déco features.
Art déco Celluloid Hand Mirror And Brush – eBay £11.50
Art déco Celluloid Mirror and Brush 3-piece Set – eBay $34.99
The majority of enamel sets are not made entirely of enamel. Instead, they are made of plastic or metals and set in with decorative enameling. Many enamel sets have artwork or motifs painted on them in pastel colors. Enamel sets were popular before the 20th century.
1900s hand-painted French Guilloche enamel gilt mirror and brush – eBay $100.00
Victorian Brush and Mirror Set with Enamel Backs and Torch Motif – Etsy €154.75
Gold plated sets
Using gold plating is a technique where a tougher and cheaper metal is encased in a thin layer of gold. These sets were popular with the middle classes because they could add luxury to their vanity sets without overspending. They were especially popular during the Victorian era.
Gold Plated Rose Floral Mirror, Brush, Comb, and Mirrored Tray Set – Etsy €121.32
Gold Plated French Hand Mirror and Brush Set – eBay $189.00
Sets made of sterling silver were popular because of their shine and longevity. Most silver sets are pre-20th century before plastic sets overtook silver in popularity due to cost and ease of production. However, later sets exist, such as the one below from 1965.
Solid silver brush and mirror set Hall Marked – Etsy £130.00 (Birmingham 1965)
Sterling Silver Hair Brush and Mirror Set – eBay $700.00 (comes with two brushes)
How to value vintage brush and mirror sets?
Several things can affect the value of antique and vintage brush and mirror sets.
- Its age, as the above silver set example shows, the 1965 set is significantly cheaper;
- Its condition, if an old set is badly damaged, for example, there are lots of bristles missing from the brush or the mirror has chips, cracks, or scratches, then the value will decrease, items in good condition will sell for more;
- The material it was made from, mostly you will find that bakelite and celluloid sets are cheaper because they were produced in larger quantities;
- Items still in an original box will also sell for more, especially if they are in excellent condition.
For ideas on how to price your brush and mirror set, research what is for sale on online shops such as eBay and Etsy. Finding sets that are like yours in age, condition, and material will help you value yours. It will also help you decide what is a reasonable price to pay for certain types of sets if you are buying.
How to restore a vintage brush and mirror set?
If silver or brass items are not cared for or used carefully, the metal will become tarnished and dull. To keep them in perfect condition, keep them away from chemical products such as soaps and bleaches. Also, avoid getting perfumes and sprays on brass or silver items.
When cleaning them, it is best to use polishing cloths made to clean silver or brass. Specific cleaning products for cleaning brass and silver are also available.
Bakelite and celluloid products are easy to keep clean since they are resistant to oils and water. They are also less likely to show signs of aging than silver, brass or gold plated sets. Gold plated items are easier to clean than silver or brass since you can use soapy water as long as they don’t have inlaid pearls, gemstones, or enamel.
Here is a video about cleaning sterling silver. It is a picture frame, but the process and guidelines are the same for mirrors and brushes.
Old brush and mirror sets still make wonderful gifts and are a great addition to an antique collection. Now you know more about the history, types, and range of values of antique and vintage brush and mirror sets, you are ready to buy or sell.
You can shop online or if you prefer to try your luck at garage sales, then check Craigslist for people advertising sales. You can search for them in location such as London or New York. If buying online, check the customer reviews as many happy customers are a sign of a reliable seller.
We hope to have answered all your questions about the vintage brush and mirror sets. However, if there is anything else you would like to know, write your question in the comments section.