Much of my research is done by looking at historical finds and at illustrations.
Finds are the ultimate physical evidence of past objects, but they are often in poor condition, or the context of the find makes it difficult to interpret in terms of who it belonged to, how common it was, or how it was used. Furthermore, as we rarely get the opportunity to view the actual object, it is easy to be misled as to its size.
The above is a photo of the archaeological report for a sixteenth century Dortrecht find. The dark lines show the shape of the actual find. The dotted lines show the estimated shape. Can you guess what it is? It’s a fragment of a purse.
In contrast, however, illustrations are good at showing us how objects were used and who was wearing them, but artistic licence, fashion, and the purpose of the illustration all mean that they are not necessarily a faithful representation of the physical object.
The above image is a photo of the Bayeux Tapestry. Among other things, note the blue-legged horses, and the buildings only marginally bigger than the horses. Useful, but hardly a definitive representation of “how things were”.
Over twenty years of re-enactment I have built up a rather large library of images of both types, both in books and through photocopies. When I say “large” I do mean that literally: it takes up a lot of space!
Happily, this year I discovered Pinterest, which makes it far easier to store collections of images without requiring the purchase of an additional room to house them all. If you are interested in seeing some of the sources I use, you may like to follow me, in particular my fifteenth century and early medieval boards.