Let There Be Light: The Big and Shiny Pier Mirrors of Victorian Brooklyn

284 Jefferson Avenue, Bed Stuy. Photo via Corcoran

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    If you are a peruser of the Brooklyn real estate listings, a fan of Brooklyn domestic architecture or live in an old Brooklyn home, you have surely heard frequent mention of pier mirrors as an original feature to envy.

    What is a pier mirror exactly? A pier mirror, or pier glass, is a large mirror designed to fit on the wall space between two windows. They were often designed to hang above a pier table — that is, a table supported by a single pier or column. Hence the name.

    In addition to making a grand statement, they served a practical purpose as well, reflecting light into often very dark spaces. Technological advances in the 1830s made mirrors less cost prohibitive and the increased size of mirrors more accessible. Beautiful examples of early 19th century pier mirrors can be seen in the parlor and dining room of the Merchant’s House Museum in Manhattan.

    While pier mirrors were used in early 19th century New York interiors, it was during the Victorian era that the mirrors became extraordinarily elaborate — often encased in large wooden surrounds with carved and incised details. The increased size meant that they were no longer confined to the space in between parlor windows and were made into the centerpiece of foyers and parlors.

    pier mirror

    58 Macon Street, Bed Stuy. Photo via Halstead

    It is these massive mirrors that are most typically associate with Brooklyn houses of the 1860s to 1890s. As so much of Brooklyn was being transformed from farmland to residential neighborhoods during this era, it is not surprising that the mirrors appear in houses from Bed Stuy to South Midwood.

    332 Jefferson Avenue, Bed Stuy. Photo via Halstead

    332 Jefferson Avenue, Bed Stuy. Photo via Halstead

    Highlighting pier mirrors in real estate ads is not a new invention. Perusing the Brooklyn Eagle ads from the 1860s to 1890s pulls up numerous examples of pier mirrors used as a selling point. For those who wanted to acquire a pier mirror to spruce up their home, furniture makers and auctioneers also advertised elegant pier mirrors for sale.

    pier mirror brooklyn architecture

    1885 ad via the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

    pier-mirror-brooklyn-architecture-south-midwood-2201-glenwood

    2201 Glenwood Road, South Midwood. Photo via Compass

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