Cultural Heritage Organizations, page 3 of 4

The growing threat to cultural objects has led some organizations to re-evaluate their approaches to inventory-making. The Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, for example, is carrying out a rapid survey of churches using video cameras to record the contents of buildings.

Staff of the Heritage Council (Ireland) testing an inventory form based on Object ID at Saint Mary's Cathedral, Dublin (below).

Questionnaire Survey of
Cultural Heritage Organizations

The questionnaire survey of cultural heritage organizations was carried out in two stages: a preliminary survey carried out in 1994, and a supplementary survey carried out in 1996. In total, 168 responses were received from organizations (museums, national inventories, archaeological surveys, and standards-making bodies) in 62 countries.

The surveys demonstrated that there is strong support for the categories that Object ID comprises, all of which were approved by more than 80 percent of respondents. Seven other categories were regarded as being important by respondents: Object Name (100%), Object ID Number (96%), Normal Location of Object (87%), Condition of Object (83%), Place of Origin/Discovery (83%), and Custodian of Object (83%). The least popular category was Estimated Value (53%), the only one to be approved by less than 60 percent.

Table 4. Summary of Findings of Questionnaire Survey of Cultural Heritage Organizations
Category of Information Percentage

Object Name* 100
Materials & Techniques 98
Measurements 97
Distinguishing Features* 97
Type of Object 96
Object ID Number 96
Title 95
Date or Period 93

Inscriptions & Markings 89
Normal Location of Object 87
Subject 84
Photographs 83
Place of Origin/Discovery 83
Condition of Object 83
Maker 83
Custodian of Object 83
Description 81

Date Documented 79
Acquisition 78
Related Written Material 70

Recorder's Name 69
Legal Status of Object 69
Cross Reference to Related Objects 68

Estimated Value 53

Object ID categories are in bold.
* The categories Object Name and Distinguishing Features were not included in the preliminary survey of 1994.

Conservation Specialists Working Group

From the beginning of the project, an object's physical condition was recognized as providing one of the best means of identifying it uniquely. This is particularly true when an object is one of a number manufactured to a common design or when it closely resembles other objects of the same kind. Those engaged in the tracking of cultural objects see condition information as important, and recommend that "any markings or features which 'individualize' an object be recorded, e.g., a scratch or chip on a piece of furniture, 'cracking' or other damage to painted surfaces, etc."41

A mutual desire to determine how information about the physical characteristics of an object can contribute to its identification led to a collaboration between the Getty Information Institute and the Getty Conservation Institute. In August 1994, the two institutes organized a Conservation Specialists Working Group that met in Washington, D.C., to examine the ways in which physical characteristics could be recorded for identification. The participants agreed on the need for the proposed standard, which they believed should include both written and visual information. A category called Distinguishing Features emerged as a key recommendation of the meeting. Its purpose would be to record information about an object's physical characteristics that could help to identify it (e.g., damage, repairs, or manufacturing defects). The findings of the questionnaire surveys carried out since then have strongly endorsed this recommendation. Ninety-eight percent of customs agencies, 97 percent of cultural heritage organizations (supplementary survey), 96 percent of appraisers, 95 percent of law-enforcement agencies (supplementary survey), and 88 percent of the art trade have approved it. The decision to produce a publication that would provide guidance on how to record distinguishing features was a second outcome of this meeting. This publication will start from the premise that

A photographic image is an important means of documentation, but is often problematic owing to the similarity among many objects. Overall views recorded photographically often do not provide adequate information to distinguish items in multiple editions from each other or copies and forgeries of an artwork from the original.42

The guide will show how this problem can be overcome by recording one or more specific features recognized as being unique to a particular object.

Experts Participating in Conservation Specialists Working Group

Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, California

Buffalo State College, Buffalo, New York

Straus Conservation Center, Harvard University Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Private conservator, Seattle, Washington

Museum of London


41 L.V. Prott, "Protecting Art—The Role of UNESCO," Etudes et dossiers No. 172, Geneva Association, 1992.

42 H. Lie, "The Use of Distinguishing Features to Uniquely Identify Artworks and Historic Artifacts," paper commissioned by the Getty Conservation and Information Institutes.


Protecting Cultural Objects in the Global Information Society — Copyright 1997 The J. Paul Getty Trust