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Preview: Mirrors

AH, the mirror. By far the most magnetic item in any room – at least for the ordinary ego. In celebration of that most eye-catching of items, Mayfair’s finest antiques dealer Ronald Phillips is putting on an extraordinary exhibition of rare looking glasses, some of them used by what were once the world’s most famous faces.

The collection of 90 mirrors – expected to be the largest exhibition of its kind ever to focus on English mirrors – dates between 1660 and 1820. The most striking is a highly embellished, gold-plated number with two mythical-looking heads on top (currently sitting in Simon Phillips’ – Ronald’s son’s – office), which hung in prime minister William Gladstone’s home. There’s also a mirror plate – glass lacquered with painting in China – that belonged to the Ritchie (as in Guy) family.

There are also some enormous, rare and brilliant Chippendales – which are always a favourite. An oval pair, with curling gold-plated frames, are on sale for a cool £850,000.

Mirrors may seem an odd money-spinner, but they are immensely popular. “A great mirror makes a room,” says Simon Phillips. “An old one can look modern in the right setting.”

They’re also a savvy buy. “Antiques are doing very well – but they have to be the best,” he says. “The best are going up. Some mirrors have been a phenomenal investment: we’ve seen some go from £12,000 to £600,000 in 40 years. If you buy a very good one: good provenance, good quality, they will rise in value because they are quite rare,” says Phillips.

Pairs are the ultimate find. Among Phillips’ stellar collection are a pair of George I carved and gilt gesso pier glasses from 1715, on sale for a cool £100,000. What do you expect with an “elaborately shaped arched cresting centred by plumed grotesque masks within a background of arabesques” and “a channelled and gadrooned border frame punctuated with stylised flower heads”. A more affordable set are a pair of George III giltwood mirrors – square. plain and elegant – from 1790, costing from £10,000.

This exhibition promises to be a magical history of narcissism and decoration – and a celebration of English craftsmanship.

Mirrors will be showing at the Ronald Phillips gallery (26 Bruton Street, London W1) from 9 to 29 June 2010, in what is believed will be largest selling exhibition of its kind.