The most direct and conclusive evidence for the study of costume is, of course, the actual costumes themselves. Unfortunately, comparatively few examples have come down to us. Articles of dress do not usually suggest themselves as objects meriting preservation, and since the materials of which they are composed are fragile in nature, constant vigilance and care are necessary to defeat time's disintegration of them. Some have been saved because of historical or sentimental associations, or because their beauty and costliness made them seem worthy of care. Thus most of the costumes still in existence are in the nature of "fine clothes," such as wedding dresses, ceremonial or court costume, uniforms or formal dress clothes. There are few examples showing us the everyday attire of the average man or of the worker. It is a limitation that must be faced in every department of costume research. Another difficulty is the lack of survivals from the earliest days of the colonies. From the dawn of the eighteenth century on, examples are more numerous, and after the Revolution material is abundant.
Most of these costumes have found their way into the collections of public museums and societies; but there still remain many in the possession of private owners, making it difficult or impossible for the student to see them. One of the finest collections is in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, District of Columbia. Other excellent ones are to be found in Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia; Independence Hall, Philadelphia; the Metropolitan Museum, New York City; the Hartford Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut.
Small groups or isolated examples are distributed through many of the museums and societies of the country, such as the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts; the Gunn Memorial Library, Washington, Connecticut; the Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
The most fruitful field for costume research is among contemporary portraits and other pictorial records. Yet this field, like others, is lacking in material for the seventeenth century. The Bellingham portrait is believed by some to be the earliest known American portrait. Its date is 1641. Before that time there are only portraits the founders brought with them from Europe, or those which were painted by European artists during visits to the home country. Pictorial records are rich for the eighteenth century. some of the difficulties attendant upon the use of this material are treated in Chapter V.
Among the most noteworthy collections of colonial portraits are those in Independence Hall, Philadelphia; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; the Metropolitan Museum, New York City; the New York Historical Society, New York City; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts; the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts; Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, Massachusetts; the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island; the Museum of the School of the Fine Arts, Yale University, New Haven; the Wadsworth Athenæum, Hartford, Connecticut; the State Library, Hartford, Connecticut.; and the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, District of Columbia.
Other institutions containing excellent examples of early portraiture are the Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia; the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; the New York Public Library, New York City, the Dyckman House, New York City; the Van Cortlandt House, New York City; the Hartford Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut; the Redwood Library, Newport, Rhode Island; National Gallery, Washington, District of Columbia; and Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine.
Examples of early American wood blocks and engravings are scattered through many museums and historical societies. A very good collection is in the New York Public Library, New York City.
The finest collection of photographs of colonial paintings is in the Frick Art Reference Library, New York City. A good collection, arranged by painters, is to be found in the Art Room of the New York Public Library, New York City.
Reproductions of early portraits are in many histories and in volumes dealing with American painting. The most complete set of plates illustrating the portraits of the seventeenth century is in "Portraits of the Founders," in three volumes, Boston, 1919.