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

Materials & Techniques

What materials is the object made of (e.g., brass, wood, oil on canvas)?
How was it made (e.g., carved, cast, etched)?

This category records the materials and techniques used in the creation and decoration, as well as in any subsequent repairs to or adaptations of the object. Descriptions of objects often combine these two types of information (e.g., pen and black ink with gray wash on paper), making it difficult for non-experts to distinguish between a material and a technique. To obviate that confusion, Object ID brings the two together in the single category Materials & Techniques.

Non-experts may know that an object is made of wood, maybe even that it is made of more than one type of wood, but not that it is of rosewood cross-banded with kingwood and lacewood and inlaid with satinwood banding and boxwood lines. Where there is uncertainty about the exact material, use a broad term (e.g., wood, ceramic, metal), or if there are only two or three possible materials, record them with appropriate qualification (e.g., oak or elm).

Typically, descriptions vary from those that simply list the materials and techniques employed (e.g., painted papier mâché and glass), to ones that provide information about which parts of the object were made using which materials and techniques (e.g., ivory drum and a silver-gilt embossed and chiselled mount). Both approaches are useful, although the latter is of more value when it comes to visualizing, and therefore being able to identify, the object.

In the case of furniture it is common practice to describe only the visible surface materials and/or the technique employed (e.g., mahogany veneered, marquetry) and not the secondary internal materials, even if they constitute the greater part of the object. Museums, on the other hand, often record both primary and secondary materials (e.g., maple and yellow poplar with yellow and white pine), while some record which parts of the object are made from which type of wood.

Black walnut case, doors, drawer fronts, top board on desk, and feet; pine drawer bottoms, sides, and backs.

Materials & Techniques can also be used to provide information about the color(s) of an object (e.g., black chalk, pink plastic). Some objects are of a single color, or a small number of dominant colors. In these cases, it is well worth recording the color(s), since they can provide an important means of identifying the objects. Many objects, however, such as most paintings, have so many colors that attempting to list them all is a time-consuming and pointless exercise.

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