The Invaluable Group is developing a product specifically to help customers establish the provenance of their prospective purchases.

Called Invaluable Checker, this database-driven product will establish the auction history of a piece of art, an antique or collectible – in some cases as far back as the 19th century by searching the unique Leggatt Archive.

The archive is a comprehensive collection of UK auction catalogues, covering most of the major fine art sales held from 1836 until 1992, which have been carefully annotated with sale prices and names of buyers.

It will also establish whether the item in question is on Invaluable's stolen database.

Invaluable Checker can help both buyer and seller in the online and offline auction world by preventing stolen items coming on to the market in the first place, and detecting those that are already there, ensuring peace of mind for beginners and experienced collectors alike.

The worldwide trade in stolen antiques is thought to be second only to the market in illicit drugs. In the UK last year £500m of antiques was stolen.