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Many collectors disregard prints. Prints are often seen as mass-produced copies of famous artworks that are just not that valuable or worth investing in. But nothing can be further from the truth. Prints can be just as valuable as any other artwork and certain prints are known to reach seven or eight-figure prices at auctions. One of the first prints ever made by Pablo Picasso entitled The Frugal Repast (Le repas frugal) sold for GBP 1,945,250 in 2012, while Au lit: Le baiser, a lithograph by Toulouse-Lautrec reached a staggering price of USD 12,485,000.

Buying prints can be a great way to acquire pieces by famous artists at affordable prices, but they can also serve as a great addition to an all-around collection that encompasses the entire body of work by a certain artist (paintings, drawings and prints alike). Since they cost only a fraction of the price of a painting or a photograph, prints are also a great way for new art collectors to kick off their collection.

Dealers often confuse buyers with expert terms like “limited edition print”, “signed by the artist,” “artist’s proof”, and the like. Understanding these terms is crucial for making an informed decision and determining the value of a print.

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Original Art vs. Reproduction

Signed vs. Unsigned Prints

Open vs. Limited Edition Prints

What’s a Print Run Number?

The denominator (the bottom number in the fraction) will show you how many prints were printed in one edition. The upper number (numerator) will show you when each print was created during the run. For example, if you see a 15/100 number on your piece, that means that you have the 15th print from the edition that contains a total of 100 prints.

As far as print run numbers are concerned, the rule is simple: the smaller the number the bigger the value. First impressions in the print run usually reach higher prices since they are considered to be the closest to the artist’s original idea.

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Trial, Hors d Commerce, Printer’s and Artist’s Proof

During the printmaking process, the artist tests various ideas, colors, and compositions. These prints pulled out during various working stages are called trial proofs. Trial proofs can show only a part of an incomplete print and they always differ from the final piece.

When the artist is satisfied with the finished plate, a B.A.T. proof is made. B.A.T. is short for “bon à tirer,” a French expression meaning ready for printing. B.A.T. proof serves as an example of how a final art piece should look like. B.A.T. proofs are sent to the printer to ensure that the entire edition matches the artist’s original vision.

Artist’s proof (also known as épreuve d’artiste, or E.A) is an impression of a print, taken during the printmaking process to review the state of a plate. In the past, artist’s proofs were the first prints pulled off a fresh plate but nowadays an artist’s proof can be pulled out at any time during the print run. Artist’s proofs are identical to standard edition prints, but unlike regular prints with fractions, these prints are usually marked with A/P (or E.A). Artists usually keep artist’s proofs for themselves so that they can borrow them to various institutions for exhibition purposes when the rest of the edition is sold out. The number of artist’s proofs may vary, but they shouldn’t exceed 10% of the limited edition run.

Apart from trial and artist’s proofs, you may also encounter a print marked with P/P or H/C, which is short for printer’s proof and hors d commerce proof. Printer’s proofs are complimentary prints given to the publisher. There’s just a handful of these and their quantity depends on the number of printers involved in the printing process (each printer gets one proof).

H/C proofs or hors d commerce proofs (which in French means do not sell), on the other hand, are intended to serve as samples that artists present to dealers and galleries.

Artist’s proofs, printer’s proofs, H/C proofs, and trial proofs aren’t meant to be sold, but often they too find their way to the market. Proofs are particularly desirable among collectors due to their rarity, or in case of trial proofs, their ability to provide valuable insight into the artist’s creative process.

With so many things to consider, collecting prints can seem like a complicated endeavor. But if you do your research right and find out who is the artist and the printer, how the print was made, how many of them were made, and how many editions have been made, you will be on a good way to determine the real value of a print.

Note:

This article was created by Art Acacia Gallery & Advisory in collaboration with Milica Jovic. Original text, as well as other posts on contemporary art, culture, and society, can be found here.

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