Documenting provenance using Codex Records

Using blockchain to track the provenance is a great use of the technology but how does it work in practice..?

What is provenance?

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Provenance as it relates to a collectible is a record of it’s history of ownership and events. It helps owners and buyers to assess risk associated with an item. These risks include authenticity risk, pricing risk, condition risk and title risk.

Things that can be included as part of provenance documentation:

  • Original receipts
  • Handwritten notes or inscriptions (plaques, sewn-in tags, notes on backs of paintings)
  • Photographs, often showing item with original owner or with a well-known person (politicians, musicians, artists, actors, etc.).
  • Gift documentation (especially a note from a famous person giving the gift)
  • Certificates of Authenticity
  • A complete list of owners
  • Auction records
  • Recorded in a home inventory: Mentioned in a will or a diary or a visitor’s written account; some kind a bill of sale or sales receipt
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Images, emails and certificates of authenticity are all good ways to document an item in your collection.

How does provenance work with the blockchain

Firstly let’s divide provenance in two. Forward looking and backward looking. Using Codex, or any other blockchain tool will treat forward and backward looking provenance differently.

When an item already has a Codex Record, forward looking provenance events, such as a sale or exhibition can be easily recorded at the time they take place. When an item is sold, the Codex Record can be transferred from the seller to the buyer. This is documented as a blockchain transaction and becomes part of the provenance. If either of these accounts is a verified account, this will also show up on the item’s provenance.

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Images, historical information and blockchain-based provenance makes for a great Codex Record.

For backward looking provenance however this information cannot be recorded contemporaneously. Does this mean there is no value in recording backward looking provenance on a blockchain? No! All provenance information is valuable — it helps us, as owners or buyers of an item, to understand the identity and history of an item. Sadly, provenance information can very easily be lost or damaged — recording them using Codex can help protect that information and ensure it is retained for the future.

Secondly, it is important to remember that provenance can change. As academic and scientific practices change and as new information comes to light, sometimes the provenance of an item will change too. This is very common — a painting previously attributed to one artist may then be attributed to another. That doesn’t mean though that this information should be disregarded. The fact that there is a change in provenance is helpful information too!


Other great resources for learning more about how to research and record provenance:

Try documenting an item in your collection using Codex Records now! Visit the Codex Viewer.

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