Editioned Prints and Photographs: How Many, What Value?

I have been working on an article which contains advice and discussion about pricing artwork. I decided that editioned prints and photographs deserve their own post! Below is key information for artists who print and sell editioned artwork.

Limited Edition vs. Unlimited Edition

A limited edition print is an edition that has a fixed number of prints from the beginning of the print run, and the number of prints never changes. Limited edition prints are marked with two numbers: the unique number of the print and the size of the entire print run. For example, the first print in an edition of 20 would be marked as 1/20 and the last work in this edition would be marked 20/20.

The number of a limited edition print is usually marked in pencil on the front of an actual print (lithograph, collograph, etc), or is usually marked in pencil on the reverse side of a photograph directly on the photo paper, or in pen or pencil on a label or the material which the photograph is mounted to.

An unlimited edition print is a print run that has no fixed number of prints from the beginning of the run.

Original Prints vs. Reproduction Prints

An original print indicates that the print is of the original medium that the artist created the work in. For example, a photograph printed is an original print. Any type of printmaking is an original print (intaglio, monoprint, etc). A work of art created digitally on a computer and printed out is also an original print.

A reproduction print indicates that the print is not the original medium of the artwork. For example, a photograph of a painting or drawing which is then printed out as an edition is considered a “reproduction” of the original artwork, and not artwork itself.

Original prints are valued as collectible as any other artistic medium. Reproduction prints have a far lower value; the Wikipedia article on editions explains that reproduction prints are “essentially in the same category as a picture in a book or magazine, though better printed and on better paper.”

Number of Prints and Value

The number of prints in a limited edition is directly related to the value of that work. The lower number of editions, the more collectible the work is and thus it has a higher monetary value.

As an example of edition size vs. value, check out the Ken Lum editions sold at the Vancouver Art Gallery gift shop:

Ken Lum
I Can’t Believe I’m in Paris
, 1995-2011
archival inks on arches watercolour paper
edition of 100
54.6 cm x 68.6 cm
$400 non members; $360 for members (unframed)

edition of 5
104.1 x 134.6 cm
$4,500

Although the prints themselves are different sizes (54.6 x 68.6cm for $400/$360 and 104.1 x 134.6cm for $4,500), it is the limited size of the larger edition which dictates and justifies the increased price.

Here is another example of value related to limited edition size:

Rodney Graham’s Ponderosa Pine IV is an edition of 2 (sold at auction for $86,500 in 2009)
VS
Rodney Graham’s Oxfordshire Oak, Banford, Fall, 1990 is an edition of 500
(sold at auction for £500 in 2008)

The above Rodney Graham example is a generalization, as the works themselves are not the same and thus I can’t argue that the value is based on edition size alone. However, the increased value of Ponderosa Pine IV does clearly reflect its more limited edition size.

How many editions?

Generally speaking, for artists who want their work to become collectible and steadily increase in value, the size of the edition should be kept low. For contemporary photographs and original prints, the edition size is usually between 2 and 20.

Higher limited editions of 250, 500, and more are usually saved for certain works of highly collectible artists like Rodney Graham or Andy Warhol, where the large limited edition will often still sell out and the easier accessibility of a higher editioned work will not adversely effect an established artist’s market value.

A note about Artist Proofs

Artist proofs originated as test proofs of an artwork. They may still physically be this in some cases, although many artists have a predetermined amount of artists proofs in an edition which may be printed at any time (before, after, or during the original print run). The purpose of reserving an artist proof from an edition is that once an edition is sold out, the artist still has a small number of prints available for donation or exhibition purposes. Classically, 10% of a limited edition size is considered an appropriate amount of artists proofs. Thus, if you’ve purchased a print, you might notice the edition size is something like: Edition of 20 + 2 AP. This indicates that 22 editions of this work either are or could potentially be produced.

What experiences have you had in editioning your artwork? Did smaller or larger editions benefit your sales or value?

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10 comments

  1. Particularly well written piece of writing.

  2. Thank you! Having just received a nice printer as a lovely gift, I’m now ready to know more about editioning. Very helpful guidelines on numbers and pricing.

  3. Interesting distinction between prints and reproductions. So can reproductions be limited editions, or just prints?

    • Hi Dawn,
      I would say that you can print “reproductions” in a limited amount, calling it a limited edition, but that those prints would be less collectable and less valuable than an “original” limited edition as described above. Cheers!

  4. Sabrina

    I have 4 Franz Bauer limited edition botanical multiflora thunb prints can anyone tell me roughly how much these would be worth?

  5. sheri

    Hi! My daughter is a legally blind artist. Her original drawings are reproduced as photographs. She sells the reproductions framed for a small profit. But she never numbers them, would there be a reason to do that?

    • Hi Sheri,
      If editions aren’t numbered, it’s an “unlimited” edition. Nothing wrong with this. If your daughter wanted to limit / number the editions, it’s totally up to her. Does she sign the reproductions? I think that would be nice for her collectors.

  6. max

    Great post, extremely informative. I do have a question about editioned prints. If I have a photo going into a gallery as a limited 5 of 5 edition, would that hold for the photo itself of just the specific size prints? I would assume for the photo itself.

    thanks in advance!

    • Hi Max,
      It is totally acceptable for the edition size to refer to just one particular size. So you could have an edition of 5 at one size, another size at 5, etc. Many collectors will ask if there are editions available in other sizes to get an idea of the total edition size. I wouldn’t recommend doing more than 2 or 3 sizes.
      Cheers!

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