Keys To Collecting Prints

by Victoria Chick

Thinking about collecting some “prints”? Buy with confidence, here are some handy tips to remember when shopping the art scene.

The excitement of collecting prints usually begins unexpectedly with a gift, an inheritance, or when you spot a print that you just have to have. Whatever the starting point, you now have the collecting bug and you want more.


But wait. What is it about this print that you like? Is it the subject, the technique, the style, or possibly the age of the print that holds your interest? Maybe you are just interested in the particular artist that made the print you have and would like more of that artist’s work. Focusing on one or two aspects will help you build a true collection.

So you get worth for your collector’s dollar here are some terms you should know and some tips to remember.

Print is a word that is very loosely used. Sometimes it is used improperly when reproduction would be more accurate. So before you purchase make sure the price reflects the value. A reproduction is a piece from a large number of photographically produced images. Sometimes this might be autographed by the artist, but usually not. If the edition is 500 or more, even if it is autographed, it is likely to be a commercial reproduction. It is not as valuable as an original print because the number produced makes it less rare. Sometimes these are marketed as “Limited Editions” but this is very deceptive. Also, the paper and ink may not be types that last through the years. Color reproductions can be susceptible to fading. Newer reproduction processes claim to be archival but we may not be sure of that claim for another 50-100 years.

Original Prints should be of limited edition to help maintain their value. Once in a while you might find something listed as open edition which means the artist produced a printing plate at some point in time but did not destroy it after an initial edition so that images can continue to be produced from the plate until the plate wears out. This situation reduces value because, again, the rarity of the print is not assured. For highest value always look for the artist’s signature in the bottom margin below the print. The exception to this rule is those prints done before the 20th century, and even for a limited time into the 20th century, which often had the artist’s signature inscribed into the plate so it was printed by the press instead of hand signed by the artist afterward. Another mark of significance is the edition size. This is indicated in the left margin under the image in the form of a fraction. For example, 2/50 would mean this is the second print from an edition of 50. Most original prints are done directly by the artist or the printing is supervised by the artist and generally not over 250 prints in an edition. AP means artist’s proof, a print pulled to test the process before giving the OK to print the edition.

Original prints fall into a number of categories based on the techniques used. I will write about these in the future. In the meantime, check out those flea markets and estate sales, go to artist markets and festivals. Have a great time searching the internet for images that grab you. Regardless of process, it is the image that means something to you, that helps form your ultimate collection. This information is just meant to help you know what you are seeing.

Photo above: “Pond with Willows” by Sven Birger Sandzen 1871 – 1954