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The New York Times, Sunday, October 30, 1994, Styles

Ready to See the Truth? by Faye Penn

WHAT: The True Mirror, a looking glass that does not reverse images the way conventional mirrors do. Printed matter, for instance, reads correctly when reflected in this mirror.

A 107-YEAR-OLD IDEA: The concept, which involves joining two mirrors at a 90-degree angle, was first patented 107 years ago by a Catholic priest in England. It was recently resurrected by John Walter, a 35-year-old Manhattan computer consultant. Mr. Walter was in the bathroom of a friend's home when epiphany struck. "There was a mirror on the medicine cabinet at a right angle from the mirror on the wall. I looked over and saw a totally different energy. It was a very happy thing I was seeing."

SEAMLESS REFLECTION: It took Mr. Walter 12 years to come up with a design that does not produce a visible seam where the two mirrors meet. While the usual mirror consists of a plate of glass with a coat of reflective aluminum on the back, Mr. Walter buys front-surface mirrors, which have the aluminum applied to the front of the glass. Nearly half of the mirrors he builds are rejects. "It's a very precise optical instrument," he said.

FOR ART'S SAKE: True Mirror enthusiasts insist that the mirror is more than a precision tool for the vain. Susan Shafton, an artist in New Jersey, says the mirror has enabled her to paint and sculpture more accurate self-portraits. "In a regular mirror, the planes are flat," she said. "The images you see in a True Mirror are way more sculptural."

ABSENCE OF BALANCE: Many True Mirror fans, like Mr. Walter, take a mystical view, saying the True Mirror offers a window into their true personalities. But first-timers are generally more likely to see their outer flaws. "Some people like it; other people are taken aback by seeing their image flipped," said Dennis Duca, who has a True Mirror on display in his SoHo Natural Light Studio, a rental studio for photographers. "A lot of people say 'I look crooked.' "

BAGGY-EYE SYNDROME: A recent True Mirror demonstration in Washington Square in Manhattan elicited a range of reactions. "I'm lopsided," noted Helen Rothauser, 45, of Manhattan. Elizabeth Sagarin, 19, a New York University student, found her unreversed reflection upsetting. "I look like I have a baggy eye," she said.

SHAVING ACCIDENTS: While the True Mirror may be a crowd pleaser at parties, using the mirror for personal grooming could have disastrous consequences. "If you want to buy it to do something in, like shave, you'd have a horrible time," said Tony Movshon, a professor of neural science at N.Y.U.

THE PRICE OF TRUTH: Mr. Movshon predicted that scientist would find little use for such a mirror. "Though I dare say it will make money for someone," he said. Indeed, truth does have a price. The mirrors cost $195 for a 12-inch model and $245 for an 18-inch model. The top of the line, which offers a full-body-view, is four feet tall and costs $750. The mirrors are sold through the True Mirror Company.

Photo: Philip Greenberg for The New York Times