The Crime Prevention Website


When considering security marking of an antique or work of art do please consult an expert as to whether you should proceed and what method would suit that particular type of object.

In most cases you will be able to use an asset marking system to mark property such as silverware, porcelain, furniture and works of art as many of the asset marking systems described in this section can be used without causing damage.  (See Standards for property marking products and services ) For some items, such as furniture, I would suggest a combination of tagging with one of the chemical or DNA markers.  For works of art you may be able to use the same combination and marking both the back of the picture and the frame would be sensible.

For those of you who have several items of property that fall under the arts and antiques category I strongly suggest you create an inventory.  Recording descriptive detail is essential not just for increasing your chances of getting the items back, but also to prove to the insurers and the police that you had them in the first place! Your friends knew you had them and you knew you had them, but for the police to record an incident of theft they must be satisfied that the property was in existence at the time of the alleged offence. 

Remember to identify items of considerable value when taking out buildings and contents insurance policies to ensure that you will be insured should something untoward happen to them or the building in which they are contained.  An inventory with photographs (preferably kept off site) will therefore be your proof of the existence of the property if something goes wrong. 

Property registers for art and antiques

Probably the best known register for art and antiques is  The Art Loss Register based in London and contactable through their website.  Here you can register a possession, search to see if an object is reported missing or stolen and register a stolen item.  By registering a possession on a database you can create a permanent record of your valuables, which you can then present to your insurance company and the police should they get lost, stolen or damaged.  Dealers regularly check objects against property databases in order not to sell or buy property that has been reported stolen.

The type of descriptive information that these databases record is often based upon a system called ‘Object ID’.  This is an international standard that describes the minimum amount of information needed to identify art and antiques.  It was developed in collaboration with art and antique traders, museums, police and customs, the insurance industry and appraisers of art and antiques.  You can read a lot more about Object ID by visiting their  website .

Even if you have no intention of registering your art and antiques you should at least record the information in the following way so that it can be given to the police and your insurers and or put onto a database at some future time should it be stolen.  Keep the descriptive information in a safe place away from the building in which the property is kept.

Object ID – descriptive information for art and antiques





Type of object


Painting, sculpture, clock, mask

Materials and techniques

What material is the object made of?


How was it made?

Brass, wood, oil on canvas


Carved, cast, etched


What is the size and/or weight of the object? Specify which unit of measurement is being used and to which dimension the measurement refers (e.g., height, width, depth).

It is preferable to record the dimensions of the viewable part of a painting (the sight size) and the unframed size of the canvas.  Record height followed by width

Inscriptions and markings

Are there any identifying markings, numbers, or inscriptions on the object?

Signature, dedication, title, maker's marks, purity marks, property marks such as chemical trace, DNA, microdots, tamper resistant labels etc and or hidden microchips

Distinguishing Features


Does the object have any physical characteristics that could help to identify it?

Damage, repairs, or manufacturing defects

In the case of well-known works of art of high value, the existence of documented distinguishing features should not be made public knowledge, either before or after a theft.


Does the object have a title by which it is known and might be identified?

‘The scream’


What is pictured or represented?

Landscape, battle, woman holding child

Date or period

When was the object made?

1893, early 17th century, Late Bronze Age


Do you know who made the object?

This may be the name of a known individual? (e.g., Thomas Tompion), a company (e.g., Tiffany), or a cultural group (e.g., Hopi).



This can also include any additional information which helps to identify the object

What does the object look like, what are its colours and shape; are there other attributes not recorded elsewhere in the record?

What is its place of origin, its provenance, the history of the object’s ownership; has it ever been exhibited?

Has anything been written about it?


Take photographs

See below, but also visit the following  website  for further detailed information about taking photographs



Source: International Council of Museums  

Taking photographs of antiques and works of art

Once you have recorded the information about your antiques and works of art you should take photographs of them to complete the record.  Here are a few tips to ensure that you can provide the police, insurers and database registers with the most useful images.

  • If you can, photograph the item outside in good daylight without the use of flash, especially when the item has a reflective surface.  If a flash light is required then try to diffuse the light. Direct flash light can create a light 'hot-spot' on a reflective surface and degrade the surface detail in the image 

  • Use a reasonably high pixel setting on the camera to obtain a detailed image

  • Photograph the items one at a time

  • Depending on the object you are photographing take pictures from the top, front, side and back and also the bottom if necessary to show maker’s marks.  Always photograph the back and the front of a painting

  • Take close up pictures of signatures, pattern names, serial numbers, inscriptions and other distinguishing features, such as damage and imperfections. Try to imagine that your valuable item has been stolen and recovered and you are the person now trying to positively match your photographs with the recovered item 

  • Place a familiar object next to the item, such as a ruler or stamp to indicate its size. Your local police may be able to supply you with an Object ID Card, which is similar in size to a business card and carries a scale and colour chart. (Essex Police, Age UK in Essex and Heritage Watch in Essex were supplying these in July 2015)

  • Photograph objects against non-reflective plain backgrounds.  A dark background is ideal for silver and glass.  Using a digital camera will allow you to experiment with various backgrounds and colours. Avoid patterned carpets and wallpaper as a background

  • Consider photographing each room in the house so you can quickly identify what item went missing from each room 

  • Attach the photos to your completed object description forms and store them away from your home or upload to a database register or other off-site server 

(Updated August 2015)