Monday, May 25, 2009

Replacing the lid-mirror in a vintage handbag.

I can't tell you how many times, while hunting for vintage, I have found beautiful little box bags from the 1940s and 50s only to open them up and find the inside mirror either badly tarnished or missing. Everything else would be in fabulous condition but the whole effect was ruined when you looked inside. If the price was low enough I'd buy them and put them aside believing I could easily relpace the mirror one day. Well I soon found's not so easy.

The thinnest mirror stock that most glass suppliers carry is 1/8" thick. That sounds pretty thin doesn't? That's what I thought... until I compared it to an original mirror from an old purse. The modern stuff was perfectly barbaric in comparison. It would never have worked.

Aside from the extra weight which would have been hard on the hinges, it also would have looked thick and awkward. No problem I thought...I'll just find a source for thinner mirror and have my local glass shop cut it for me. Again...not so easy. I contacted dozens of wholesalers and almost none of them would even talk to me because I was not a vendor. I did manage to find a nice fellow, at a Georgia company, who did his best to help, but in order for me to purchase something thinner I would have had to order enough to last three lifetimes! Aaargh! Here I was with a stock-pile of beautiful vintage handbags doing nobody any good, for lack of a simple mirror. I was desperate.

I called my local glass shop and begged them to help. The young lady at the desk took pity on me and promised to do what she could. I owe her a debt of gratitude because later that day she called back and said she had located 1/16" mirror (half the size) and the best news was, I only had to buy what I needed. After thanking her from the bottom of my heart I ran over with templates for 5 mirrors and placed my order.

To create the templates it helps if you have the original mirror. In that case all you need to do is trace. If the mirror is gone you must determine the size and shape on your own. Sometimes age has caused an outline on the lid where the old mirror was. Use a piece of see through tracing paper to copy the outline. If there is no clue then create a square or rectangle to fit the area. MAKE SURE you do not overlap the opening edge of the bag or the mirror will impede closure (I learned this the hard way)To be double sure of this, pass the template through the opening of the bag making sure it clears the edges

I wanted the edges of my mirrors to be beveled but the glass cutter could not accomodate me so I told him to please smooth the edges for safety reasons. Still, I did not like the naked edge of the mirror showing so I took a piece of vintage gold cord and glued it all around like a frame. This looked great. I'm sure other types of ribbon or trim would work just as well.

When gluing mirror it is imperitive to use acid free glue. Acidic glue will disolve the mirrored finish over time, creating dark spots. You can use mirror mastic or an acid free craft glue made for adhereing non pouros materials. I use Weldbond Universal Adhesive by Frank T RossLtd.

To find thin mirror ask your local glass store if they will special order some for you, ask for 1/16" or less. If you are lucky they may actually have some old stock on hand. The people I go to are J.+R. Glass in Fitchburg Ma. Their website is I can't guarantee, but I bet if you arrange to send them your templates they would be happy to do business by mail, you would just have to pay for shipping.

Just a note: When I relpace a mirror in a bag for re-sale I always disclose this fact to my customers. Some care, some don't but it is the prudent thing to do.

Best to you all! Melody

1 comment:

  1. I just saw a bag that closely look like that in one of the bags merchant that i frequently visit.