Mirror Cases

Introduction

In the medieval period glass mirrors were often housed in circular, hinged metal cases.  Those cases recorded by the PAS are predominantly copper alloy, with generally standardised decoration and diameter (c. 28-30mm) (see Egan and Pritchard 2002, 362; fig. 241; Lewis 2014, 358-359; figs 10, 11).  Far fewer lead-alloy examples are recorded, showing more variety in their designs and size (see Egan and Pritchard 2002, 359-360; figs 239, 240; Bazley 2019).  Such mirrors may have been love gifts, as well as having had a practical function (Lewis 2014, 359-360); certain lead-alloy examples have been suggested to have been pilgrim souvenirs (Bazley 2019, 5).

PAS object type to be used

Use MIRROR CASE

Terms to use in the description

Each case was formed of two halves: cast discs that are shallowly convex in profile.  Each half had a single lug at one end and a pair of lugs opposite.  On each half one of these lugs was drilled through to take a rivet on which the case hinged.  The inside surface can sometimes retain traces of cement, analysed as calcium carbonate (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 361).  On the copper-alloy cases, the outer surfaces are decorated generally by a rounded, open cross in double lines of punched opposed triangles: these form four-fifths of examples as documented by Lewis (2014), and are classified as his Type A, divided into five design types, some further sub-divided by the presence of a border.  Far rarer are cases of Type B which have rectangular settings for glass which were soldered in patterns on the outer surfaces, interspersed in a regular fashion with riveted collets which would have taken semi-precious gems (Lewis 2014, 357).  Lead-alloy cases are far more varied in their designs, with openwork, floral, animal and religious designs; broad design themes have been outlined by Bazley (2019).

Medieval cased mirror terms (using LANCUM-1AE696). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)
Medieval cased mirror terms (using LANCUM-1AE696). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)

Date

In London the copper-alloy examples were all found in contexts dated between the late 13th century and the mid 14th century; lead-alloy examples were also found slightly earlier, in mid-13th-century contexts (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 358-361).

Examples

Medieval mirror cases: copper alloy with punched decoration (Lewis Type A, NMGW-F4ABC8, left); copper alloy with applied decoration (Lewis Type B, LIN-269165, centre); lead alloy with moulded decoration (NARC-CC3D05, right). Copyright: All rights reserved; The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Northamptonshire County Council; CC-BY licence)
Medieval mirror cases: copper alloy with punched decoration (Lewis Type A, NMGW-F4ABC8, left); copper alloy with applied decoration (Lewis Type B, LIN-269165, centre); lead alloy with moulded decoration (NARC-CC3D05, right). Copyright: All rights reserved; The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Northamptonshire County Council; CC-BY licence)

Search for all examples of mirror cases

Key references

Egan and Pritchard 2002

Bazley 2019

Lewis 2014