Through the Looking Glass
During the holidays we often catch ourselves looking in the mirror, but if you happen to bump into your reflection in a Federal gilt and eglomise mirror with a label emblazoned with James Todd Looking Glass Manufactory, Exchange Street, Portland, you’ve got to like at least part of what you see!
Just as we have style-setters and tastemakers like Alex Carleton and Angela Adams today, so was the Forest City a hotbed of bright young things in the 1820s, among them John Neal, Charles Codman, and James Todd.
Born in 1795, Todd first sparkled into Portland in 1820. As Peggy McClard of Peggy McClard Antiques in Houston, Texas, writes, “His family goes back to Richard and Elizabeth Warren, who came to America on the Mayflower. He married Lucy Thaxter [and] began advertising his business in The Eastern Argus newspaper of Portland in 1820. He took a store on Exchange Street and advertised that he did burnish gilding, reframed old looking glasses, and made new frames–‘glaz’d and enamel’d’–for embroidery, paintings, drawings, and prints. In May of 1823, he advertised ‘Looking Glasses, cheap!’ at his ‘Manufactory’ at the ‘Sign of the Looking-Glass.’ From then until his building burned in 1861 (then run by William Todd–probably his son or grandson), his business was always known by his Looking-Glass trade sign.”
Earle Shettleworth of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission says a number of people believe Charles Codman did some of Todd’s reverse paintings on glass, as they were friends and contemporaries.
What collectors adore about a piece by Todd, beyond its classic beauty, is his practice of using handsome labels on the back of his work to help us tell the real thing.
If, as so many Twilight Zone episodes suggest, mirrors ‘remember’ everything they see, imagine what stories a James Todd mirror can tell! A refractory constellation of the mirrors ‘saw’ the Great Portland Fire of 1866. They saw the Prince of Wales visit this city; witnessed crowds shopping at Porteous, Mitchell, and Braun; and maybe even stole a glimpse of Joe Angelone spinning his first pizza in the air. Imagine all the holidays caught within their depths, hidden among the sparkles. The parties, the scarves, the hip flasks, a single lost glove on a table. Imagine 2010 turning magically into 2011.
Watch out. One of these mirrors has its eye on you.