There's a site called shorpy.com. It started, as far as I can tell, when someone managed to get at some of the archival material the Library of Congress has sat on for more than a century, like a dragon on its hoard. Much had been shamefully treated - damp and rats seem to have been the most common problems.

What the guy got hold of were glass photographic plates from the 1860s on up. Then he scanned them at the highest resolution he could, and then put those and various downsized pictures on the site. I've ranted about the people who reduce scans to grainy stamp-sized blobs for years; looks like someone else shares my peeve.

Some of the raw scans are around 10,000 pixels wide, I have to pan around. Some of the pictures from the Civil War era are breathtaking - yes, they're in black and white, but it looks like you can reach out and touch people. Some are so sharp you can see the weave of clothing. The longer you look, the more detail you see.

There's a series of pictures from the Civil War showing soldiers and their families. Back then, families sometimes went along with the army, then stayed at a base camp when the armies were going into battle. A lot of those guys apparently took everything they had, and had it all hauled out to show the photographer. Wife, children, some blankets, (sometimes) a change of clothes, a few utensils... and most of them had collections of pots, shown with evident pride.

Pots? They were in enough pictures to catch my attention, and some of them had a *lot* of them; more than I saw a use for, anyway.

Eventually I realized that those metal pots probably represented a fair amount of wealth in the 1860s. Despite modern propaganda, the gulf between rich and poor was a hell of a lot wider in 1865 than it is in 2010. Those pots were probably not all intended for cooking. You could carry stuff in them, store stuff in them, cook in them, and if it came down to it, take a crap in one if you didn't want to wade through the snow to the outhouse on a dark night.

Yesterday I saw a survival thread where a guy was talking about a course he took from an ex-Canadian special forces guy. The guy said a pot was something most people overlooked, but it was a very useful item in a survival situation, for most of the reasons I gave above.

I've seen pictures of soldiers using helmets to cook in. Hmm...