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On view

Pier Mirror

Maker: Isaac Platt (1793-1875; active New York, New York, 1815-1860)

Date: 1830-1835
Medium: Eastern white pine, glass, gilded gesso, gilding
Overall: 78 5/8 x 39 x 3 1/4in. (199.7 x 99.1 x 8.3cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 59.127
Text Entries

This pier mirror bears the label (fig. 20) of Isaac L. Platt (1793-1875), a frame and looking-glass maker and retailer and a print seller who conducted business at 178 Broadway in New York City from 1825 to 1837.(1) Born in Freehold, New Jersey, to Stephen (1762-1800) and Dorcas (Hopkins) Platt, Isaac Platt first appears in New York City directories in 1815 with a looking-glass store at 196 Broadway. In addition to his frame and looking-glass business, Platt was a founder of the Chemical Bank and the Pennsylvania Coal Company and served as vice president of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company.(2)

With its four split turnings, carved corner elements, symmetrical decoration, and overall sculptural quality, this mirror is of a type that became popular in the 1830s.(3) It was probably made between 1830 and 1835 and has elements of both federal and rococo revival styles: The simple split-turned sides suggest the federal style, but the carved bosses, floral motifs, and C-scrolls evoke the rococo revival style. At one time, looking glasses of this type were thought to have been made later than those with cornices and side turnings, but more recent scholarship suggests that the designs were made contemporaneously and that clients could chose between the two.(4) Of the known mirrors with a Platt label, the MWPI example is one of the most richly ornamented.(5)

This pier mirror is one of a pair that originally hung in the drawing room of the Randall family mansion on Main Street in Cortland, New York. One of the pair can be seen in situ above a marble-top pier table (see cat. no. 8) in a photograph in a brochure for the November 1935 sale of the Randall house contents.(6) A mirror is also described in the text of the brochure as a “magnificent mirror with gold leaf frame, thirty-nine by sixty-nine inches in size.” Further documentation of the Randall provenance can be found in the inventory of the estate of Marian B. Wilson, last member of the Randall family to live in the mansion, which lists “2 Gold frame Peer [sic] glasses” valued at seventy dollars among the contents of the drawing room.(7)

Platt’s correspondence with another family provides interesting documentation of the pitfalls of transporting fragile merchandise to customers living at a great distance from New York City. Hyde Hall, on the north end of Otsego Lake in central New York State, was built to the specifications of its owner, George Clarke (1768-1835), between 1817 and 1833. The house was primarily furnished with goods brought from Albany and New York City, and records now at Cornell University document many of these purchases.(8) In an 1833 letter to Clarke, James A. Smith, auctioneer at 92 Broadway, mentioned looking glasses for the drawing room “packed by Mr. Platt, and forwarded, as per order.”(9) Platt’s bill to Clarke lists one “Looking Glass Plate 72" x 36" framed 4 1/2 Inch fluted molding Gilt back at the sides” and two other glasses measuring sixty-six inches by sixty inches among merchandise totaling $597.(10) These suffered somewhat in transit to the storage warehouse of Messrs. Warner & Company in Fort Plain, New York, about twenty miles from Hyde Hall, as Platt indicated:

one of the frames was injured—this I had

before been apprised of by the young man from

Mr. Gardner’s. Such damage if in the City

would be of trifling consideration, and could

be repaired with little trouble or expense. I am

aware that the case is widely different situate

as you are, and trusted that the care taken in

packing and storing them safe on board the

vessel would have prevented any damage.(11)

Living so far from the city, Clarke was left to make the necessary repairs on his own. The Randalls were lucky that their pier glasses apparently made the trip from New York to Cortland without incident.

Essay by Page Talbott

1. Platt's biographical and business history is recorded in Betty Ring, “Check List of Looking- glass and Frame Makers and Merchants Known by Their Labels,” Antiques 119, no. 5 (May 1981): 1190-91. Ring described seven different labels found in the Decorative Arts Photographic Collection at the Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Del., four of which give Platt’s address as 196 Broadway (1815-18). The other three labels locate him at 128 Broadway (1820-21), 138 Broadway (1821-24), and 178 Broadway. She mentioned two additional girandole mirrors with Platt labels in private collections, one with the 196 Broadway address and the other with the 128 Broadway address. The documented frames by Platt span many different styles, from rococo to federal to classical.

2. Henry Hall, America’s Successful Men of Affairs (New York: New York Tribune, 1895-96), pp. 508-9.

3. Robert C. Smith, “Architecture and Sculpture in Nineteenth-Century Mirror Frames," Antiques 108, no. 2 (February 1976): 355.

4. See David L. Barquist, American Tables and Looking Glasses in the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1992), pp. 337-38, for a discussion of a looking glass with split turnings and foliate corners.

5. Smith, “Architecture and Sculpture in Nineteenth- Century Mirror Frames,” p. 355.

6. Herbert L. Smith, Private Sale of Important Antiques from the Randall Mansion, Cortland, N. Y., Beginning Friday, November 15, 1935; photocopy, MWPI research files. Photographs taken between 1910 and 1935, now in the Cortland County Historical Society, show the mirrors hanging above the pier tables on opposite sides of the drawing room. See cat. no. 8 for a history of the Randall family and the Randall Mansion furnishings. This mirror was illustrated in Richard B. K. McLanathan, “Fountain Elms in Utica, New York,“ Antiques 79, no. 4 (April 1961): 357, and in Smith, “Architecture and Sculpture in Nineteenth-Century Mirror Frames,” p. 355. Edgar de N. Mayhew loaned the mate of the MWPI pier glass to the exhibition “Classical Taste in America, 1815-1845,” and it is illustrated in Classical America, 1815-1845 (Newark, N.].: Newark Museum, 1963), no. 65. The Mayhew mirror was offered for sale by Peter Hill in 1967 and is illustrated in his advertisement in Antiques 92, no. 5 (November 1967):

7. Photocopy of part of an unknown legal document dated June 20, 1935, relating to Marion B. Wilson’s estate. Attached to the document is a partial inventory of the contents of the house; photocopy, MWPI research files.

8. For a complete history of the house and its furnishings, see Douglas R. Kent, “Hyde Hall, Otsego County, New York," Antiques 92, no. 2 (August 1967): 187-93.

9. As quoted in Kent, “Hyde Hall,” p. 189.

10. Kent, “Hyde Hall,” p. 189.

11. Kent, “Hyde Hall,“ p. 190.