Five experiments examined item and order memory for short lists of novel visual patterns. Memory was tested either by an item recognition test, choosing between a target and a similar foil (Experiments 1, 3a, and 4), or by a relative recency decision between two patterns that occupied adjacent list positions (Experiments 2, 3b, and 5). For both item recognition and relative recency tasks, accuracy was in most cases constant across serial positions, except for a recency advantage that was usually restricted to the most recent item or recency decision. Only a small and marginally significant effect of list length was observed for item recognition. Relative recency was more sensitive to list length and fell to near-chance levels with lists of eight items. We conclude that for these materials, prerecency item recognition depends on stable, context-free descriptions of items. Relative recency judgements are sensitive to list properties, but fail to show evidence of primacy or extended recency that are observed when other techniques are used to study serial order memory. We discuss the results in relation to four current models of serial order memory that embody different assumptions in the way that serial order is represented.