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Object ID

Object Identification (Object ID) is an internationally recognized documentation standard conceived to identify and record cultural goods. 


It sets a standardised procedure to document and describe collections of archaeological, cultural, and artistic objects. By facilitating the identification of these objects, a standardised description can aid in their recovery in case of loss or theft.Object ID was developed in collaboration with the museum community, police and customs agencies, the art trade, insurance industry, and valuers of art and antiques. It helps to combat the illicit trade of cultural heritage by encouraging the use of the standard and by bringing together organisations around the world that can encourage its implementation.

About Object ID

In case of theft, the information gathered and recorded using the Object ID norm can be checked against other databases of stolen artefacts, for example, the INTERPOL database of stolen works of art. Object ID was created as a practical tool for facilitating the recovery of stolen cultural goods, and is now internationally recognised as a necessary and effective tool when inventorying a collection.

The Object ID standard defines nine categories of information as well as four steps to fulfil the procedure. The categories are:

  • Type of object
  • Materials and techniques
  • Measurement
  • Inscriptions and markings
  • distinguishing features
  • Title
  • Subject
  • Date or period
  • Maker

The four steps are divided as follows:

  • Taking photographs of the object
  • Identifying the above mentioned categories
  • Writing a short description, including additional information
  • Keeping the constituted documentation in a secure place

New translation initiatives are constantly being promoted and undertaken. Currently Object ID is available in Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, KoreanNorwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish and Ukrainian.

Why is it needed?

The illicit trade in cultural objects is now widely recognized as one of the most prevalent categories of international crime. The proceeds of thefts, forgery, ransoms, and smuggling operations involving cultural objects are often used to fund other criminal organisations and terrorist activities, and the objects themselves often serve as both a medium of exchange between criminals and a means of laundering the profits of crime.

Law enforcement agencies have long recognised the importance of good documentation in the fight against art thieves. Documentation is indeed crucial for the protection of cultural objects, for police and customs officers can rarely recover and return objects that have not been photographed and adequately described. Police forces and customs administrations put into the custody of the museums and Ministries of Culture large numbers of objects that have been recovered in the course of operations, but which cannot be returned to their rightful owners because there is no documentation that makes it possible to identify the victims.

Who is using it?

Around the world there is growing, broad-based support for this standard. The majority of customs authorities of the member states of the European Union use the standard, and the Object ID checklist has already been translated into 17 languages.

Amongst the participants promoting and using the Object ID Checklist are:

Historical background

In 1993 the Getty Information Institute initiated a collaborative project to develop an international documentation standard for the information needed to identify cultural objects. This new standard was developed in collaboration with police forces, customs agencies, museums, the art trade, valuers, and the insurance industry.

The contents of the standard were identified by a combination of background research, interviews, and, most importantly, through a major series of international questionnaire surveys. In total, over 1,000 responses were received from organisations in 84 countries. The findings of these surveys — published in Protecting Cultural Objects in the Global Information Society — demonstrated that there was close agreement on the information needed to describe objects for purposes of identification. The result was the Object ID checklist.

The Object ID standard was launched in 1997. It has been promoted by major law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Scotland Yard, Interpol; organisations including the WCO and UNESCO; and by museums, cultural heritage organisations, art trade and art appraisal organisations, and insurance companies. Having established a descriptive standard, Object ID now helps combat the illegal appropriation of cultural objects by facilitating documentation of items from collections and by bringing together organisations from around the world to encourage its implementation.

From 1999 to 2004, the Object ID project was housed at the Council for the Prevention of Art Theft (CoPAT) in the United Kingdom. In October 2004, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) signed an agreement with the J. Paul Getty Trust for ICOM’s non-exclusive worldwide use of the Getty’s Object ID standard. ICOM now holds the license rights to promote the use of this standard among museum professionals and, to this end, organises workshops on its implementation, in collaboration with UNESCO, WCO and INTERPOL.

More Information

Fanizzo, Kelly Yasaitis, (2005) ‘Object ID: A Model of Global Collaboration’ in Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship, Vol. 20, No. 21

Thornes, Robin with Dorrell, Peter and Lie, Henry (1999) Introduction to Object ID: Guidelines for Making Records that Describe Art, Antiques and Antiquities Getty Information Institute

Thornes, Robin (1997) Protecting Cultural Objects in the Global Information Society: the Making of Object ID Getty Information Institute

Thornes, Robin (1995) Protecting Cultural Objects: A Preliminary Survey Getty Art History Information Program

Thornes, Robin and Bold, John (eds) (1998) Documenting the Cultural Heritage Getty Information Institute

UNESCO (2006) Legal and Practical Measures Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property – UNESCO Handbook International Standards Section, Division of Cultural Heritage, Paris

For more information on documentation standards for cultural objects, other than Object ID, visit the ICOM website for CIDOC – ICOM International Committee for Documentation.


To find out more about Object ID, contact:

ICOM: International Council of Museums, 15 rue Lasson, 75012 Paris France Tel: +33 1 47 34 05 00


Legal Mentions / Trademark / Copyright

*Object ID ™ is a trademark of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Use of this trademark is prohibited without permission from: ICOM, 15 rue Lasson, 75012 Paris, France © The J. Paul Getty Trust, 1999. All rights reserved.

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