Butler history Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, September 2018, The Wisdom of Butlers Past

Steven FerryThe Wisdom of Butlers Past

by Steven Ferry

Part 16 – Looking Glasses

“Looking glasses, mirrors, etc.” is the next category that butlers were responsible for cleaning, or seeing cleaned. Looking glass was first used in 1526 to describe a mirror. What is the difference between the two? None really, unless mirrors were smaller and used for personal grooming, while looking glasses were larger and used to view one’s overall appearance. Does anyone have any certain knowledge of this?

Whereas we might simply use an electro-static cloth dampened with water to clean a mirror or window today, two hundred years ago they had to a) wipe off any grit with a wet sponge; b) repeat with rubbing alcohol; c) dust with blue powder* or whitening* sifted through muslin cloth; d) rub off the powder quickly with a cloth; e) repeat with a clean cloth; f) rub with a silk handkerchief. Wow!

* It is not clear what these products were back then.

In those days, of course, there was a lot of dirt, soot, and dust in the residence from fires, candles or oil lamps, muddy roads and paths, etc., so the looking glasses were no doubt in need of cleaning quite often.

As for the frames, using a cloth to wipe them would remove the gilding, and the author advised the use of raw cotton instead. For varnished frames, rubbing alcohol was used to bring out a shine in them.

Extracted from the 1823 book, The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remembrancer, re-published in hardback by Pryor Publications.

You may obtain your discounted copy (with free s&h) by emailing the publisher: Mr. Pryor (

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