10 Tips to Manage Your Art Inventory

Are you thinking about professionally managing and documenting your art works, collection, or inheritance? A lot of questions may arise when dealing with professional art management, especially if you aren’t familiar with this topic. Maybe you’re asking yourself which information needs to be recorded, what an inventory software like ARTBUTLER NEXT or ARTBUTLER PRO must be capable of, and why there’s a difference between storage and art work location.

We have compiled a glossary on the subject of inventory management to briefly and clearly explain the main expressions concerning art work documentation. We’ll also show you which basic information a database software should record.


Inventory Number

An inventory number is the clear marking of an art work to systematically record and identify your works. This number should be assigned to each art work or object and should be unique so as to avoid mix-ups. A unique inventory number is particularly relevant when artists work in series and don’t use titles. Inventory numbers may consist of numbers, digits, and special characters. Always use the same approach when assigning numbers. You may determine your own approach: by including abbreviations, for example, your inventory numbers can transport a meaning, such as “PH” for photography, or “PICA” for the artist Picasso. The inventory number “PH-1234” could stand for the 1234th photography in your collection; “PICA/M 2” could stand for the second painting by Picasso. This method would provide significant information on each work.


An inventory comprises all works and objects in your possession. It’s possible to own and manage multiple inventories (e.g. several collections, an inheritance, etc.). Particularly when it comes to taxes, it’s important to separate your inventories. Here’s an example: You and your spouse own a collection. Some of your art works were owned by your partner before the wedding, some belong to you as a couple (as invoice payer), and the rest of the collection is your company’s property over which only one of you presides. Nevertheless, all art works are hanging in the same apartment or are kept in the same storage space. To avoid mix-ups, you’ll need to manage and record inventories separately.

Location vs. Storage

Once you start managing your art professionally, you should be able to record your works’ location and storage separately. Why? The location specifies the place your work is kept at right now, such as storage space, gallery, art fair, or museum. Storage space on the other hand specifies where your work is usually stored (e.g. your archive or an external storage space). If a piece is on loan at a museum (location), you’d like to know where the art work will go to (storage space) when the loan period has ended. Storage space may specify precisely where the work is located, e.g. “Shelf 2, Box B”. If you record such details, it will be easier to organise transports and find your art works in storage, even if they are packed.

Edition number

The edition number states the exact scope of an edition, which is vital in identifying forgeries or in determining the value of the edition piece. The price of an art work depends on the number of pieces within an edition: it makes a difference whether the edition comprises 3 or 300 pieces. The edition number is at best part of the inventory number, allowing you to assign the piece accurately.

Buying / Selling

Buying and selling need to be regarded as separate from each other as they may vary significantly. The purchase value determines the price at which you bought an art work and will never change. The selling price, however, may change before or during the sales process and may also depend on the purchase value. Recording becomes even more relevant when you purchase an art work in a foreign currency, or when you have initially offered a work for £6,000 but then sold it for £5,000, for example. Recording these values correctly is equally important for accounting.

List Price and Costs

The list price indicates the current (market) value of an art work. Costs state expenditures for the piece in question: e.g. framing, transport costs, insurance, restauration, etc.  The higher the value of an art work, the higher the costs involved. This may, for instance, include preparation of a certificate of authenticity: you’ll need a Warhol expert for an art work by Warhol, or a Picasso expert for an art work by Picasso, who can determine if the piece in question is genuine. This involves major costs you’ll need to record, as well as the experts’ inbound and outbound travel costs.


If you’re a gallery owner selling your artists’ works, you’ll usually do so on a commission basis. This means that an artist will give you their works for you to exhibit and sell. When a work is sold, both parties will profit. Art works are an essential part of working in a gallery. The gallery holds a right of disposal over the commission works but did not purchase them beforehand. For recording and accounting purposes, it’s important to have an overview of your inventory. This information needs updating especially after settlements related to art fairs, exhibitions, and sales.


An integral part of documenting your art work is recording their dimensions, such as height, width, and depth. These measurements must be recorded in a structured manner (a field for height, one for width, etc.). Only then can you search specifically or sort items within your online inventory. It’s also useful to record other dimensions, such as frame size, measurements of a sculpture base, or packaging dimensions, which can vary widely depending on the item in question. Such tasks will make handling art works a lot easier, especially when arranging transport for items on loan, or organising art fairs or sales.

Recording Images

Images of your art work are a key element of your inventory as they can quickly be forwarded to potential buyers, offer an optimal impression of your works to website visitors, and may be used for storage purposes or transport boxes. To offer viewers a good impression of materiality and dimensions, you’ll need to provide the right setting for your art works. Often, a piece requires several images, such as installation views, close-ups, etc. Usually a professional photographer is hired for this task. It’s also important to pay attention to documenting images correctly, which should include the photographer’s name, copyright information, comments where necessary, and titles (e.g. “rear view”, “installation view Art Basel 14, 2017”).


A certificate proves an art work’s authenticity. It also plays an important part when reselling an art work. If the art work in question is contemporary, the artist will certify the authenticity of his or her piece. The corresponding certificate will be handed over to the buyer upon purchase. Important information that shouldn’t be missing from the certificate includes the inventory number to identify the piece, an image of the piece, and notes on specific features, such as signatures. Specified information may look like this: “Signed and dated on the reverse: John Doe, 2017”.


Are you searching for appropriate database software that is capable of all those functions?
Try our smart cloud based database solution ARTBUTLER NEXT free of charge for 14 days! Are you looking for database software to install locally on your device or in your local network? Schedule an online introduction to our ARTBUTLER PRO software!