Introduction to Object ID
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categories of information
Type Title
Materials Subject
Measurements Date
Inscriptions Maker
Distinguishing Description

Inscriptions & Markings

Are there any identifying markings, numbers, or inscriptions on the object (for example, a signature, dedication, title, maker’s marks, purity marks, property marks)?
This category includes both text and markings that have been inscribed, cast, stamped or otherwise applied or incorporated into the object at the time of manufacture or at a later date. It should include the location(s) of inscriptions and markings, for example, inscription on frieze of plinth, maker’s mark on base.

Inscriptions & Markings can greatly assist in the identification of objects. They are particularly important in differentiating between a number of objects of similar appearance. The presence of a serial number or the position of a maker’s mark might be the only difference between the object in question and others like it. Recorded inscriptions and markings can assist in identifying the maker of an object, its place of origin, the date or period in which it was made, or the material of which it is made, and even supply information about its provenance.

Textual inscriptions should always be recorded exactly as they appear on the object, including misspellings, although these should be followed by the qualifier sic in brackets to indicate that the incorrectness is as given in the inscription, for example, Spring Summer Autum [sic] Winter. If an inscription is only partly legible, record the words/letters that can be read and indicate gaps (for example, Mytton wild [illegible] shooting or Mytton wild. . .shooting). Where missing or illegible letters or words have been inferred, indicate the part of the inscription that is not visible on the object, for example, . . .ad fanum tuum [at]tulerint. When the correct reading of an object is uncertain, add a question mark, except when recording signatures. A question mark attached to a signature will suggest that there is uncertainty about the attribution (see below). An inscription that is wholly illegible should be recorded as such, for example, signature illegible.

Inscriptions should be recorded in the original language, although translations can be provided if desired

docilianus bruceri deaesanctissime suli devoveoeum[.]ui caracellammeam inuolaueritsi uirsiferninasi seruussiliber ut[1-2]umdeasulis maximoletum [.]digatneceiso mnumpermit. This has been translated as: “Docilianus (son) of Brucerus [Brucetus?] to the most holy goddess Sulis. I curse him who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether man or woman, whether slave or free, that. . .the goddess Sulis inflict death upon. . .and not allow him sleep or children now and in the future, until he has brought my hooded cloak to the temple of her divinity.”

If the inscription cannot be recorded as it appears on the object, for example when it is in an ancient language or in pictograms, its presence should be recorded, for example, with pictorial cuneiform. A translation of the text can also be given, if known, for example, inscription in runes on comb-case translates as "Thorfast made a good comb". In these cases a photograph, or photographs, should also be taken of the inscription to aid identification.

When documenting a mark, it is important to remember that non-experts are unlikely to be able to visualize it from a description that gives its meaning, but does not describe its appearance. For example, the information Maker’s mark of Pierre-François Drais, charge and discharge marks of Jean-Baptiste Fouache does not tell a non-expert anything about the appearance of the two marks mentioned. If possible, therefore, describe the marks as well as interpreting them, for example, four hallmarks: lion passant (sterling silver); rose (Sheffield, England); "i" (1997); initials "PST" (Peter Scot Thornes). Close-up photographs or sketches of marks, and their positions relative to each other, may provide a unique means of identifying the object (see also Distinguishing Features).

A title that is engraved, carved, cast, or otherwise physically a part of the object should be recorded under both Inscriptions & Markings and Title. Many markings depict subject matter, ranging from simple designs (for example, anchor, lion, wheat sheaf) to relatively complex images (for example, seated figure wearing long gown). Descriptions of the subject matter of markings should follow the same approach as that recommended under Subject.

The recording of signatures, dates, and inscriptions can indicate whether they are believed to be authentic. For example, Christie’s includes the text "Signed. . ."/ "Dated. . ."/ "Inscribed. . ." to indicate its opinion that the work has been signed/dated/inscribed by the artist, a question mark to indicate doubt about the attribution (for example, Signed Marc Chagall?), and the qualification "With signature. . ."/ "With date. . ."/ "With inscription. . ." to indicate that in its opinion the signature/date/inscription is by a hand other than that of the artist.

If inscriptions and markings provide useful information about the history of an object, they can also be misleading. Signatures can be added to paintings, and marks cannot always be taken at face value. For example, the crossed swords used by the Meissen porcelain factory (from ca.1722) were also used by English factories at Bow, Worcester, Derby, Lowestoft and Coalport deliberately to mislead customers. Equally if not intentionally misleading was the Chinese habit — especially during the reign of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722) —of applying the mark of an earlier emperor as an act of reverence.

Note on Security Marking
It is particularly important to record the presence and location of security markings using substances that are invisible to the naked eye under normal light, for example, zip code 20073 written with UV pen on underside of top right hand drawer; Smart Water applied to stretcher; microchip concealed in frame. Alerting law-enforcement agencies to the presence of these markings will enable them to test recovered objects using the appropriate technology, such as ultraviolet light for inscriptions written with UV marking pens and Smart Water™ and scanners for microchips.

Remember that security marking physically alters objects, may result in damage, and can adversely affect their value. When considering marking an object for security, first consult an expert for advice on whether to proceed, and, if so, which is the best method to use.

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