Iago’s Guide to Finding Period Armorials Online

  1. Find collections of digitized manuscripts.
    1. A decent, if sometimes out-of-date, place to start is https://digitizedmedievalmanuscripts.org/, which is a meta-collection of institutions with digital manuscript collections. If the link to an institution on that site is dead, try Googling the name of the institution – it may just have an updated URL.
    2. New collections are being put online all the time, and are regularly shared all over SCA social media, so keep an eye out.
    3. Sometimes an item or search result in one collection will link to an item in a different collection (watch headers, layout, and URLs so you know if you’ve been sent to a different institution’s collection). If you end up in a collection you haven’t seen before, do searches there as well.
    4. Keep track of places you’ve had success in the past – some of them regularly add new items.
  2. Search within any collection you find.
    1. ‘Keyword’ searches are usually the best bet if that option is available.
    2. See the Table of Search Terms below for some useful terms to start with depending on the institution’s language.
    3. Keep track of the most effective search terms in any given collection.
    4. Look closely at the full record for any results you find that are even vaguely on-topic; most collections will have things categorized by ‘Subject’. Search by the ‘Subject’ of results you find.
    5. Look at any good (or even half-decent) results you get from various search terms, and see what other words the titles, descriptions, or other key words have in common; try searching with these new words as well.
    6. Some search terms will give you a small number of good results but will miss a lot of other sources. Some search terms will give a lot of results but include a lot of false positives. (For example, using ‘arms’ might bring up every item where the book has an armorial bookplate, which isn’t all that helpful; but using ‘armorial’ might miss an excellent source that is titled or described as ‘a collection of arms’.)
    7. Try to figure out as much about the search interface as possible – run the page through a translator if necessary.
    8. Use filters and sorting as much as possible to limit results, for example:
      • Filter for ‘created’ dates between 1250 and 1650
      • Sort items by date order with the oldest first
      • Some collections include all items held by that institution, digitized or not – filter for ones that have digital copies
      • Filter type of media for ‘book’ and/or ‘manuscript’
  3. Record as much as possible.
    1. It’s tempting to look through things you find right away, but this can cause you to lose your search momentum. Instead, quickly record a brief description and a URL of anything of potential interest to look through later.
    2. If a search brings up a promising-looking result that doesn’t appear to be online, keep digging. Google the name of the source, or the shelfmark – it might be hosted elsewhere, or could point to a lead to a similar source. Even if you find nothing, don’t give up – record the details of the source and try looking again in a few months.
    3. You’ll occasionally find things that have little or nothing to do with heraldry, but are interesting nonetheless (I’ve found a book of Italian Renaissance hedge maze designs, recipe books, books full of drawings of different styles of equestrian bits, etc.). Save these somewhere – you never know.
LanguageSearch TermMeaning/Notes
Englishcoats of arms 
Englishalbum amicorum “friendship book” – a type of autograph album
Englishfriendship book 
 —————————————— ——————————————- 
Frenchalbum amicorum 
  ——— ———————————  ——————————————- 
Germanschönbartbuch/schembartbuchbook of costumes and arms from the Schembart Carnival in Nuremberg – there are a lot out there, typically they all show the same set of armory
Germanstammbuchalbum amicorum
Germanschiessen“shoot” – some records of German shooting tournaments include the arms of the participants
  ——— ———————————  ——————————————- 
  ——— ———————————  ——————————————- 
Italianprioristacollection of the arms of people who served on the government of the Republic of Florence
  ——— ———————————  ——————————————- 
  ——— ———————————  ——————————————- 
  ——— ———————————  ——————————————- 

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