This has long been a topic of discussion among personnel of “living history” sites, where objects are often displayed in an outdoor setting, or in a “hands-on” use context. There is general agreement in then field that the use of original period artifacts in such circumstances is ultimately consumptive, and that the use of replicas is to be preferred. (There are some persuasive counter-arguments to the effect that certain artifacts — machines in general being a good example — are apt to have their longevity increased through prudent use with appropriate maintenance rather than sitting in storage under “benign neglect” conditions.
As a practical matter, however, the procurement of high quality replicas is often prohibitively costly. Much discussio0n of the issues involved has taken place at regional and national/international meetings of ALHFAM, the Association for Living Historty, Farm and Agricultural Museums, and in that organization’s quarterly Bulletin and annual conference Proceedings. Some pertinent information is to be found on that organization’s wen site (http://www.alhfam.org). The organization also maintains a listing of reputable suppliers for a wide variety of replica items suitable for use as “expendifact” stand-ins for original period objects.