Help using the Museum number and provenance search

The British Museum has used a large variety of numbering systems. In some cases the same number is shared by two or more objects across departments. In some of these cases a prefix has been added before a number (e.g. Oc1946,1027.5). To find an object using a museum number that has a prefix, you will need to enter that prefix as well as the number.

The most common type of number used begins with the year of acquisition. The database standardises these numbers in the form, for example:

1887,0708.2427 (year: comma: block of four numbers - usually representing a month and day: full-stop and final number).

The final number can be of any length and may be followed by another full-stop and a sub-number.

If the number you are entering has come from an old catalogue it could appear in the form 1887-7-8-2427. In this case, zeros will need to be inserted before the month and day numbers. Spacing or dashes should be removed:

1887-7-8-2427, becomes 1887,0708.2427

In the case of some two-dimensional works from Asia and the Middle East a full stop may need to be inserted into the final number. This is only needed when the last set of numbers begins with a zero, for example:

1887,7-8-03 becomes 1887,0708,0.3

The second most common type of Museum number takes the form of one or two letters followed by two numbers. These need to be entered in the form, for example, Gg,1.461 (letters: comma: number: full-stop: numbers).

There are also some special cases including, for example, S.2534 (Sheepshanks collection, in which case the number will fall between 1 and 8000).

There are also additional identification numbers, such as Jap.Ptg.Add.523.

There are also what are known as 'Big' numbers. These are used for Egyptian and Middle Eastern objects and are just a sequence of numbers, e.g. 1373.

Sir Percival David Collection of Chinese Ceramics

The collection of Chinese Ceramics on loan to the Museum from the Percival David Foundation has a specific numbering system. To find the entire collection just search for PDF.

For specific objects, all are prefixed with PDF, but there are two different numbering systems used.

Some are simply numbers, e.g. PDF.1 (these should be entered PDF: full stop: number).

Others have an additional letter followed by a number, e.g. PDF,B.613 (these should be entered PDF: comma: letter: full stop: number).


Search by previous owner

Only names that have been specifically associated with objects as vendors, donors or previous owners, rather than as producers or sitters (though the same person can play multiple roles) will be found. Sitters and producers can be found through the Advanced search, using the People category.