Monday, April 27, 2009

Collecting Antique Prints; part 2

In an earlier post, I explained how in order to be a collector, one needs to approach acquiring prints using criteria, and I talked about the collecting criterion of having a theme to one's collection. Today I'll talk about the criteria of publishing history and condition.

Publishing history: A collector must establish rules of acquisition concerning the publishing history of the prints under consideration. This history describes how an impression was created and what place it occupies within the universe of different versions of the print. It includes the state and edition of the print and whether it is a proof, original strike, restrike, reproduction or facsimile.

The question of edition can be quite important. Many collectors limit their collections to first editions, but each print must be judged independently, for the first edition is not always the most significant and differences between editions can be historically insignificant. In terms of print states, generally this is not of great importance for historical prints. However, unusual and rare states can have an extra value and interest to collectors.

The desirability of particular states or editions must be balanced against the likelihood of acquisition, given availability and price. Also, while first editions or rare states can be nice, sometimes the extra cost is not warranted by the purpose of the collection.

Generally, historical print collectors eschew restrikes, reproductions and facsimiles. (Read about restrikes and reproductions in earlier blogs) There is nothing wrong with such prints for some purposes, but they usually are not considered "collectible."

Condition: Condition is also a very important collecting criterion. Though the definition of “good condition” is difficult and relative, an inherently useful rule-of-thumb is to acquire only prints in good or better than good condition. This is important for the appearance and overall quality of the collection. A single print in poor condition stands out in a collection of prints in good condition, and an entire collection in poor condition in not likely to make a very handsome presentation. Most collectors enjoy exhibiting and owning a high quality collection, and prints in poor condition can tarnish that enjoyment.

Also, good condition is important for the value of the collection. Even if one pays considerably less for a damaged print than for a print in good condition, it is likely to be more difficult to recoup one’s investment through resale than it would be for a more expensive print in better condition. Damaged prints rarely rise much in value and are always harder to sell.

A collector should be somewhat flexible in his application of the criterion of condition, for some prints are so scarce that the condition of any available example is relatively unimportant, and certain prints are affordable or obtainable only in relatively poor condition.

A collector needs to consider why he or she is collecting in order to decide how strictly to apply the criterion of condition. If a collector wants to build a “museum quality” collection, or one with maximum market value, then strict application of this criterion is imperative. If, on the other hand, the collection is intended for personal enjoyment, then a more relaxed application of this criterion is appropriate. A collection intended for display can include pieces that are attractive but which fall short of being in good condition. Someone who intends to build a comprehensive collection will probably need to include prints in less than ideal condition, especially for some of the rarer prints. The time frame for collecting is also relevant. If the collection is a life-long project, then a strict application of the criterion would be appropriate, whereas if the collection is to be built within a short time, more flexibility is warranted.

As a general rule, however, one should buy prints in less than good condition only if the problems are relatively minor and examples in better condition are unobtainable due to scarcity or cost.

(Click here to go to part 3 of collecting antique prints)

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