Build-Your-Own-Barcode Competition – Amazing Limited Edition Prizes!

Retrospective graphics.005

I worked with barcodes a lot back in the 1990’s. When I say a lot, I mean I worked with one barcode symbology, but a lot. In 2001 I started a series of memorabilia-based works called “BARCODE” where each one was a unique barcoded eight-digit number from a “limited edition of one hundred million”.

It was my little joke about limited editions sometimes not being very limited. All editions are limited in practice, but because each number in my work is never re-used, it’s also a contradiction.


BARCODE 00000019 – “Baseball cap”, 2001

I always find it ridiculous when manufacturers of soft drinks or chocolate bars issue mass-produced fodder in limited editions.

The “Limited Edition” Retrospective flyer is an embodiment of several contradictions. I am not limiting the edition, other than the eight digit number. Each folded A3 poster contains 70 barcodes, and they don’t repeat, so there is a limited edition of just under 1.5 million of this flyer. However, each flyer has one of four different designs so it could be nearer six million if I wanted. The printed flyer also includes a badge.



The flyer contains a competition which is a challenge to hand-draw a working barcode. It is possible and here are the rules.

1. The barcode MUST BE FREEHAND DRAWN. No rulers, no computers, no printers, no copiers.
2. It must be at least 3 characters long, not including the terminating asterisks.
3. It must be machine readable.

I have made it easier by including the initiating and terminating asterisks. Code 39 is very error-tolerant and you do not need to fill the entire barcode. It is ok to leave space before the final character.

You can get a printed “Limited Edition” flyer from me, or you can view it online here. Also, you can download the barcode layout as a PDF and print your own. Remember to print in colour so that the guidelines remain red and laser-transparent. It doesn’t seem possible but it’s not as hard as you would think.

Here’s one I prepared earlier. I’ll give you three guesses what it says.


All your barcode are belong to us.

I will be available to scan your barcode at the Bolam Retrospective launch event on 24th April at Access Space, Sheffield, UK 2pm – 7pm. There will be a prize for all readable barcodes of three characters or more. Anything particularly ambitious or inventive will win you something special, although I haven’t decided what that is yet.

Note: This is not a democracy and the judge’s decision is final.