There comes a time in one's life when you want to replace the posters in your home by original art prints. Prints are more affordable than original paintings and are the most popular form of buying and collecting art. Part I deals with the factors that influence the value of a print and aspects of editions, signatures and seals on art prints.
Let's first have a look what influences the price of an art print. It is basically a matter of offer and demand and depends on a wide variety of factors.
It is obvious that the name of the artist is one of the major factors that determines the value of an art print. But it is not as obvious why you can buy an original print by for instance Chagall for US$500 or for US$20,000. What is the difference? It is rarity. The print for US$20,000 is from an edition of 50 copies, signed and numbered by the artist.
The print for US$500 comes from an edition size of an estimated 5,000 without any numbering nor is it signed by the artist personally. But it is an original piece of art by Chagall nevertheless.
Prints by highly esteemed artists were often republished because of the great popularity - even after the artist's death. Consequently prices are under pressure. Prints by William Hogarth are a good example for this practice.
Old art prints will always have some flaws. If not, look twice! It might be a reproduction. While minor flaws like slight soiling are considered as normal - depending on age of course - other defects can reduce the value of a print considerably. Such defects are missing parts, large tears, trimming into the image, heavily faded colors, very obvious stains or run-out colors.
Prints taken early from a plate or woodblock are more precise and detailed in lines than later impressions. Depending on the technique, a block/plate is worn out after a certain amount of impressions. Hardly more than 2,000 impressions could be taken from a woodblock print without a rather visible deterioration of quality.
Larger prints tend to cost more than smaller ones. This rule of thumb is less valid for old prints than for modern ones.
Although rather irrational, the subject of a print has a great influence on value. Attractive subjects are for instance cute animals, pretty women, nice landscapes, interesting portraits. Also unusual subjects can be in high demand. Commercially non-appealing subjects are everything ugly, gloomy, war-related. Also boring landscapes or ugly portraits do not sell well.
Prints coming from a famous collection will usually yield a premium.
Before the twentieth century artists did not routinely number nor sign their prints by hand. A signature can come from the plate but is not much of a value. What counts is an individual signature of the artist on the print - usually done with a pencil. Ink would fade out after several years.
Modern art prints are often numbered by the artist himself like for instance "34/100". This means that the print is number 34 out of an edition of 100. One speaks of a limited edition print.
Old art prints sometimes have the name of the printer and the publisher engraved. It is of great help to identify a print but has no influence on its value. Old Japanese woodblock prints may have a variety of seals and signatures: artist's signature and seal, the publisher, the carver and for older woodblocks maybe the seal of a censor. This helps to assess a print.
Important collectors used to mark the prints of their collection with a stamp of their own - called a collector's stamp. As a proof of authenticity it can increase the value of a print.
Author: Dieter Wanczura