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

Type of Object

What type of object is it (for example, painting, sculpture, clock, mask)?
The first question most people ask themselves when confronted with an object is "What is it?" It is not always possible to provide an answer in anything but the broadest terms, for example, clock. In most cases only an expert will be able to identify the object exactly, for example, quarter repeating carriage clock. It is important to attempt an answer, however broad, because this category acts as the primary means of classifying objects, and is crucial for locating records of objects in both manual and automated retrieval systems.

Type of Object is recorded either in the form of a single term (for example, spear) or as a short descriptive phrase, if known, that combines information about the object’s form, function, materials and techniques of construction, mechanism, and period.

warrior ear ornament
Meissen vase with chinoiserie decoration
Gray limestone head of a Bhudda
English 18th century diamond spray broach
red lacquered ormolu musical automaton clock

What if a particular type of object is known by a number of widely used names? For example, long case clock, tall case clock, and grandfather clock are different names for the same object. More than one term for the same object causes problems when it comes to retrieving information: if an object is documented using one term, and searched for using another, it will not be found. For this reason, some organizations select one term to be the "preferred term" — the term used by the organization to describe a particular type of object — and make other terms synonyms. For example, the preferred term might be short case clock and the synonym grandmother clock. This process may be taken further by providing a list of approved terms from which to choose when entering and retrieving information. This "pick list" approach makes the information more retrievable, and is useful in multilingual databases by creating links between the names of an object in different languages. On the other hand, it tends to restrict users by offering too few choices, resulting in the need for the options other or miscellaneous for objects not covered by the list.

Many organizations categorize their objects at two levels, placing them in broad categories (for example, arms and armour) as well as specific types (for example, breast-plate). Some go further by employing on-line, hierarchically structured thesauri to enable information to be entered and retrieved at a number of levels.

Level 1  furniture
Level 2     chair
Level 3       windsor chair
Level 4         fan-back windsor chair (US)

Perhaps the best known of these thesauri is the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) (, a controlled vocabulary that provides terms for documentation of the cultural heritage. The AAT aids retrieval of information in computerized databases, by providing paths composed of synonyms, broader and narrower terms, and related concepts. The tool enables users to refine, expand, and enhance searches and achieve more comprehensive and precise results.

A collection of related objects such as a baptismal set requires a choice whether to describe individual component parts or the set as a whole. For example, a tea and coffee service comprises a number of objects — i.e., teapot, coffee cups, tea cups, saucers, plates, cream jug, sugar bowl, and slop bowl — that can be described either as a whole or as a number of individual related objects. The service can be documented as a whole by entering the collective name under Type of Object and providing a description of the individual objects using the category Description.

Type of Object: tea and coffee service


A Spode tea and coffee service painted in red, blue-green, and gold with birds, flowers, and foliage in the Oriental style, comprising: 7 in. teapot and cover, 4.5 in. cream jug, five tea cups, six saucers, 5 in. sugar bowl and cover, 5 in. slop bowl, and six coffee cups.

Bear in mind that some objects incorporate, or comprise, other objects of a different type, made of different materials and techniques, or by a different maker at a different date.

Gold intaglio bracelet set with 13 cornelian and hardstone intaglios, mostly Roman 1st to 3rd century AD, the intaglios mounted in gold circa 1820.

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