Marking & description

There are a number of ways of marking your antiques and works of art, or making detailed descriptions to help make it more likely that your possessions are recovered. Whether it be for financial or sentimental reasons this may be something you wish to do as an added precaution.

The mark you make must be unique and enable the police to recognise it. There are a number of cottage industries starting-up in this area, and our advice is to check that the police support the type of technology being used, and regularly look for such marks, otherwise they may not be spotted by those who are in the field.

Ultravoilet marking

All police forces use UV lamps to check for signs of marking by UV marking pens. The most common method of marking is to write the postcode, followed by the house number or first two letters of the house name. These pens are inexpensive and can be purchased from stationers and DIY stores. Use the pen on parts of the item which are not cleaned, for example bases of porcelain. Do not use on the reverse side of canvas or paper as it will seep through. Property should be re-marked every two years as marks can fade.

A more sophisticated method of ‘UV’ marking is to use something called ‘Smartwater’, which is a harmless liquid with a unique DNA code enabling very small quantities to be painted on property, which can be spotted by the police with the use of an ultra violet lamp. This is very useful for valuable antiques and works of art and indeed anything, such as a motor mower or garden statuary.


This is a relatively new form of marking. It works on the basis that the dots are scattered liberally and that the offender would neither wish nor be able to clean and remove all of them. They must be used in conjunction with visible stickers, as police property officers need to be alerted to look for them.


This is also a new form of security marking, where a micro-chip is embedded into the antique or work of art. Ask your antique dealer for advice to ensure that no damage is caused otherwise this will result in loss in value of the object. You must also check with the police that they will support the form of technology you chose.


Make a note or sketch of identifiable features, including initials, family crests, damage and any repair. Hallmarks are also important as they identify age and possibly value. Free literature is available from the assay offices which deal with hallmarking and inexpensive booklets can be purchased from booksellers. Make a note of the maker’s initials or any engraving on a non-hallmark item.


Marking wooden items such as furniture for identification purposes is much easier than for many other possessions. The standard method is to use an ultra-violet sensitive marker or permanent felt pen. Discretion is needed when marking an object. The underside of a tabletop is ideal as it is hardly ever cleaned and is seldom disturbed. If a piece of furniture has drawers then marking the back or the underneath of each drawer is recommended.

Clocks & watches

Make a note of the maker, the type of face and numerals, the material and the decoration of the clock. The back of the clock or the inside of the case may bear old repairers’ marks scratched into the metal. If photographing, take care to avoid flash reflections from the glass or metal surfaces.


Jewellery is often difficult to identify unless you record:

  • The type of metal.
  • The type of stones.
  • A description of the setting.
  • The age of the items by hallmark.

A jewellery member of the BADA will be able to help with this and for a modest fee will provide a written description and valuation which will also assist for insurance purposes. A close-up colour photograph taken using the guidelines in this leaflet will also help identification.

If you wear valuable items of jewellery you need to ensure that all the pieces and their stones are secure, since loose settings and worn clasps may result in a loss. A jeweller should periodically (preferably once a year) check that items of jewellery are in good condition.

Fine art

Pictures are one of the easiest items to recover as they are unique and usually signed by the artist. A picture may be categorised by both the surface on which it is painted or drawn and the medium in which it is executed. For example a painting in oils can be on various types of backing, for example canvas or board. Ensure you record:

  • The exact size of the painting.
  • The surface on which it is painted or drawn (e.g. paper, canvas) .
  • The medium in which it is executed.
  • The name of the artist (if known).
  • A brief description of the scene or subject.
  • Any obvious repairs.
  • A description of the frame.

Best of all, a colour photograph should be taken of the whole picture with additional photographs of repairs, signature or other markings. The picture should be photographed from a slight angle to prevent flash reflections from glass or oil paints. Take a photograph of the front and back of any valued painting. Every picture canvas has its own weave pattern which is as individual as a fingerprint.

Discretion & privacy

It is most important to be discreet about the presence of antiques and their value to avoid the attention of thieves. When wearing expensive jewellery or watches, try to cover up when in public places so as not to draw attention to yourself. Make sure the details of any valuations are kept secure and separate from the insured items. Best practice is to keep values apart from the actual descriptions, referencing the one to the other by employing a reference numbering system. Do not feel you have to submit the full descriptive version of the valuation to your insurers, as many of the specialist art insurers agree this is not necessary. Be warned that magazine articles written about your home or garden, however flattering, are a regular source of information for thieves.

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