Unfortunately, scams abound for prints on artists’ web sites, dealers’ web sites, auction sites (unscrupulous sellers, not the sites) and also off line through frame shops, art fairs, shows and galleries that sell prints. Some of these prints may be for works of well known artists who may have absolutely no idea about the scam.
Basically, there are two print markets.
- The first is unsigned, usually not archival and rarely a limited edition. This is decorative art, although you can find prints of work by Monet, Van Gogh, Da Vinci and Warhol in this market. This market can include Giclees. You can find this stuff at Target, Michael’s, posters.com, etc. easily and cheaply.
- The other market is for fine art limited edition prints, that are most usually, especially if the work is Modern or Contemporary signed and numbered. These prints may be collected to decorate one’s home or office, but they are also thought to be an investment that may one day become profitable, or at least if the buyer has the print archival framed, will not lose value over time. This is the category where a buyer needs to beware. If the number of the print edition is over 750, including any extra prints, sometimes known as proofs or artists proofs, it is not a truly fine art limited edition print. In the second category hucksters, tricksters, greedy merchants and artists abound. When researching limited edition prints for my own work, I discovered more than I ever want to know and certainly take part in!
Collecting true fine art signed and numbered limited edition prints are a less expensive way to collect investment quality fine art. Many people can afford it and if one selects prints by good and reputable artists one has the opportunity to have one’s investment grow along with the artist’s reputation and market.
Beware artists who paint religious subjects or who claim to be Christians or Jews who issue prints. Some of the most wonderful people are authentic religious artists who offer good work and product, but a few, just a few are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Follow all the information given here and you will not fall prey to them.
Legally, any artist or publisher who has gained the privilege of using an image can call any edition a limited edition by setting a certain number of prints within that edition. So, a limited edition of prints can be ten in number or 20,000. Scarcity creates value. An open edition print can end up being any number of works that the printer and artist can manage to sell and thanks to modern technology, this can go on for many years duration.
Some publishers and artists figured out a clever way to get around the general notion that a limited edition has a rather small and finite number. They publish a limited edition in one size, and later they publish the same print in another size – or even repeat a previous size (especially if it sold well) by specially naming the edition. I have seen this kind of edition named, “the Jubilee edition,” the “Celebration series” the Master edition”, and so forth. Pretty much looks like a scam to me.
Reputable, good artists and publishers do offer prints in different sizes and even media. For instance a true limited edition work may be offered on canvas and paper at the buyer’s choice. Similarly, reputable artists and printers are known to offer the same image in various sizes, all signed and numbered. They may even call these different sized or media offerings by names that are similar to the ones mentioned previously. However, these reputable honest folks offer one big difference.
From the onset the printer and more importantly the artist clearly indicate the exact number of prints signed and numbered prints that will ever be available of the image. Most will even set out how many prints will exist in each edition according to size and media. The collector should be able to know how many signed and numbered prints will ever be made available. Period.
For example, let’s use Andy Warhol:
The market and price for his silkscreen prints continues to soar. Most of his work was signed, usually on the back sometimes on the front and provenance (the record of who has owned the work, and for how long and then who owned it next) is usually available. Warhol often published him prints in editions of about 300, depending of the image. He might later reuse the image, especially with portraits, such as Marilyn Monroe, but the colors and arrangement of images would change significantly.
Today one can also purchase unsigned unnumbered Warhol prints, usually litho or posters of the most iconic works at stores where decorative prints are sold. These are neither produced to be archival or signed and numbered, although they may be accounted as authentic by the foundation, meaning the original image is indeed a Warhol. The Warhol foundation owns and licenses out the rights, which produces revenues for the non-profit foundation. This type of printing falls within my understanding of the decorative market, and although it can be well done, these prints are not investments.
There are living artists who also have their works reproduced as prints both for the decorative market and also as limited edition fine art prints. Distinguishing between the two types of prints is simple when dealing with a reputable artist. Although reputable artists will sign posters made of there work to publicize exhibits and events, those posters will not be numbered. Fine art prints are always in limited editions and the total of signed and numbered prints for any images should never exceed 1000, and that is the absolute limit by a few hundred!
A Certificate of Authenticity should accompany every investment quality fine art print, signed by either the artist and or the publisher. It should include the name of the print, the dimensions of the print, the media, and the number of the print over the number of the edition, plus, the number of total signed and numbered prints that will be published of that image, ever. If the print is new, the COA should be dated. At the time of sale the collector should be given information as to where and how to update provenance records if the work leaves his hands. If a work is truly fine art, provenance is being kept on the artist’s original and limited edition works.
Having a reproductive print on canvas does not make it a better print. In fact, an artist’s work may be more valuable for being published on paper than on canvas although for absolutely original same-sized works this is usually not the case. A reproductive limited edition print is always based on an original. Works created on paper, including watercolors often look more like an original and make better prints when printed on the best archival papers that have texture.
Furthermore, the quality of the inks, paper or canvas, and printing equipment count. An artist running off an edition on his inkjet printer on cheap canvas is creating a product that will literally fade into obscurity in only a few years. I have witnessed artists selling what they termed limited edition, signed and numbered prints, which were made on the color copier at the local print shop. These prints are guaranteed to fade in only a few years, but legally an artist can do this. Buyer beware.
Most artists prefer not to frame prints but to leave that to the collector and a reputable framer who will carefully use archival materials to surround the work. Many collectors keep their prints unframed in archival boxes, away from light and humid conditions. Sometimes collectors have a folio of prints, all numbered the same from an artist’s series. Recently one of Warhol’s work was on the market and the fact that the seller had a complete signed set all numbered with the same number made the works more valuable.
An artist who truly cares about his or her reputation is going to take care that all the information is made known about their prints. All of the information mentioned above will be on the COA and/or in catalogues and other materials. Artists will not be trying to also do framing, offering various suggestions online – although print dealers may.
A print that was owned by someone previously may be already framed. Ask questions! Ask about provenance and where you go to report it when the print changes hands. If the print is for a living or well known artist and you do not receive an immediate answer of person or gallery to contact, including their address, you are probably better off not purchasing the print except as only a decoration.
If the work is being offered by a third party, contact the artist directly yourself and make inquiries. Reputable artists will not try to cut their dealers out of a sale, but will be glad to assist with a sale. Reputable artists want to maintain provenance, so if you have questions about provenance for a work, the artist, or the gallery that represents them will be helpful. Developing a strong secondary market for an artist’s work is valuable to the artist and their primary dealer(s). You should enjoy an above board and satisfying relationship with all parties when you make inquiries about an original print you wish to purchase. However, an artist who attempts to undercut a legitimate dealer (not a private party who may be seeking an unrealistic price) is probably giving you good reason to back away from collecting their art.
Prints are a great way for an informed collector to enjoy the satisfaction and investment rewards that can come from collecting art. Collecting good art is an investment you can show and share with pride.
Judy Rey Wasserman is the Founder and a professional artist of UnGraven Image Art Theory. At the web site are inspirational articles and weekly blogs, many images of art, the free download of the Manifesto of UnGraven Image booklet, art collecting tips for collectors, and investment quality, limited edition fine art prints that you can collect for daily inspiration, profit and fun.