The first mirrors used by people were most likely water collected in a some kind of primitive vessel. The examples of the earliest manufactured mirrors made from pieces of polished stone such as naturally occurring volcanic glass obsidian found in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) have been dated to around 6000 BC. Polished stone mirrors made in Central and South America date from 2000 BC onwards. Mesopotamians crafted mirrors of polished cooper from 4000 BC, and ancient Egyptians made this kind of mirrors from around 3000 BC. Chinese manufactured bronze mirrors from around 2000 BC. Mirrors produced of copper and tin speculum metal may also have been produced in China and India. Speculum metal or any precious metal mirrors were hard to produce, they were very expensive and were only owned by the wealthy.
Metal-coated glass mirrors are said to have been produced for the first time in Sidon (modern-day Lebanon) in the first century AD. The technique for creating crude mirrors by coating blown glass with molten lead was discovered by the Romans. In Greco-Roman culture and throughout European Middle Ages mirrors were simply slightly convex disks of metal, either bronze, tin, or silver, that reflected light off their highly polished surfaces.
Some time during the early Renaissance, a superior method of coating glass with a tin-mercury amalgam was perfected in Europe. In the 16th century, Venice, a city very famous for its glass-making expertise, became a center of mirror manufacturing. The mirrors manufactured in Venice were famed for their high quality. The Saint-Gobain factory, established by royal initiative in France, was an important mirror producer. By the middle of the 17th century, mirror was extensively made in London and Paris.
From the late 17th century onward, mirrors-and their frames-played an increasingly important part in home decoration. The early frames were usually made of ivory, silver, ebony, or tortoiseshell.
By the end of the 18th century, the frames were decorated with floral patterns or classical ornaments.
The invention of the chemical process of coating a glass surface with metallic silver is credited to German chemist Justus von Liebig in 1835. His silvering process involved the deposition of a thin layer of metallic silver onto glass through the chemical reduction of silver nature. This process inaugurated the modern techniques of mirror manufacturing and led to the greater availability of affordable mirror. Nowadays, mirrors are often produced by sputtering a thin layer of molten aluminum or silver onto the back of a plate of glass in a vacuum.
People have used mirrors both as household objects and as objects of decoration throughout history. The earliest made mirrors were hand mirrors; mirrors large enough to reflect the whole body appeared in the 1st century AD. Celts adopted hand mirrors from the Romans and by the end of the Middle Ages had become quite common throughout Europe. They were usually made of silver, though sometimes of polished bronze.