Found on the wreck site of the Henrietta Marie, sank 1700
Walter Prideaux of the Daniel and Henry, a merchant slaver sailing during the same years as the Henrietta Marie, mentions “looking glasses” or mirrors featuring in his trading experience in Africa. He speaks of three different sizes, trading at the rate of nine per iron bar for the small ones and three per bar for the largest. This translates to thirty-nine large or 117 small being traded for a man, and thirty to ninety for a woman.
The ten 11.3 cm tall lead frames discovered in the wreckage of the Henrietta Marie are believed to be mirror frames, although no glass for them remains and it is not known what size they would be considered at the time. Ornate and decorated with cherubic figures, they attest to the nature of most of the trade goods as luxuries rather than necessities.
Glass was rare in West Africa as the strong market for glass beads attests. Mirrored glass would be even more rare and was only a few hundred years old in Europe. Although mirrors of polished metal had been available for centuries, reflective glass was a vastly superior reflector and its appeal to the Africans can be readily understood.
In addition, if the frames remained unsold in Africa, they would have been suitable for the colonial trade, where they might have been used as frames for miniatures—a popular art form in both Europe and the Americas from the late sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries. The link between miniatures and the Africa trade is strengthened by the fact that most were painted on a slice of ivory. Following the shape of the ivory base, they were round or oval in form, and usually limited to the sitter’s head and shoulders. Long pre-dating the photograph, these portraits were keepsakes, prized for their charm and detail.