The Two Meanings of Tin Mirror
"Tin mirror." That two-word phrase can mean one of two things. A tin mirror may be that artisan-produced mirror with a tin frame you purchased in Mexico. A tin mirror may also be the antique mirror made using a special backing based on tin. Let us take a closer look at the two meanings of the term "tin mirror."
First, let us look at the historical meaning of the term. As of the middle ages, mirrors were made using a special backing that was comprised of tin and mercury. A thin sheet of tin was treated with mercury (often rubbed in using a hare's leg) and was then floated on a bed of mercury before glass was then applied. This technique for building mirrors was quite popular, and was used for an extended time.
It was also a rather dangerous process. Mercury vapors are toxic and the use of large quantities of mercury in mirror making undoubtedly led to disastrous health consequences for many people. Although few of the tin/mercury amalgamation mirrors remain in use today, they are still in circulation. One environmental group has maintained that if one of the remaining mercury mirrors should break, the release of harmful vapors would exceed safe standards.
Now, let's look at the other meaning of "tin mirror." Today, the phrase is often used to refer to non-mercury mirrors featuring a punched tin or other ornate tin frame. These mirrors come in a variety of sizes and styles. Mexican artisans are well known for their tin-trimmed mirrors, but they are produced throughout the world.
Popular due to their attractiveness and rustic sensibility, these "tin mirrors" are found in countless retail stores and are readily available from a variety of manufacturers online. Some are quite plain and offer an understated simplicity, while others may be quite detailed and elaborate in their composition.
Although they may share the name "tin mirror" with older and potentially dangerous mirrors, that is all they generally have in common. Today's mirrors are safely constructed and one should not be concerned that the purchase of a so-called "tin mirror" that merely features tin accents poses any health risk.
Some people have been confused by the term's dual meaning. They have wrongly believed that an attractive mirror with a nice punched metal frame may actually be dangerous when, in reality, it is perfectly innocuous. It is also possible that someone more familiar with the term's use a style descriptor could purchase a potentially dangerous mirror unwittingly.
If you have ever passed on an otherwise likeable mirror with a tin frame because of a concern over the danger or tin mirrors, or if you have ever assumed that an old tin mirror was just as safe as any other was, you have fallen victim to the curious dual meaning of the term. It makes sense to understand the two meanings of the expression in order to have a good grasp on what it might actually mean to own one of two types of a tin mirror.