Monday, June 22, 2009

Numbered prints

There is a lot of confusion over what it means to have a “numbered” print, so I will discuss the issue in today’s blog. What people usually mean when they say that a print is numbered, is that the artist or printer or publisher has indicated that the print in question was the Xth print out of a total of YY made. This is usually indicated with a pencil notation in the margin in the form X/YY.

So, for instance, if Thomas Willoughby Nason produced a total of only 200 impressions of his print of “Upland Pastures,” then he would mark the fifth print that he pulled from the woodblock as “5/200” and the eighty-ninth he pulled off the block as “89/200” and so on. This was intended as an indication to a potential buyer that there was only a limited number of these prints made (200) and that this one was one of the official group (number 89).

It is important to realize that this numbering is really only a marketing stratagem, not something that has anything to do with the intrinsic quality or value of the print. Artists numbered prints simply so that buyers would know that the run was limited and that their print was one of the official run. The presence of numbering does not in itself make the print any more or less valuable, it just allows us to have knowledge of a couple of important facts about the print.

It is, however, quite clear that for prints by artists who did number their prints (and there are many who didn’t), it is important to have the number on the print, for that does tell us those important facts. While it is true that if Nason did not number his prints they would still be just as valuable, for those prints he did number, you want to make sure you have an impression with the numbering. Where a particular print was numbered by the artist, any impression without a number is probably one that is a reproduction or a later restrike, not from the original series, and that of course means that impression has considerably less value.

There a number of reasons why prints are not numbered. First off, numbering of a print is a relatively modern notion. It was only in the late nineteenth century, with the etching revival, that prints began to be numbered. Before that time there was no need to number prints---all prints were run off in limited numbers. Printing processes were such that huge runs of prints could not be made and also there wasn’t a large enough market that anyone would run off more than a relatively limited number of impressions. Before the mid-nineteenth century, no one worried about there being a huge number of impressions of any print, so why would anyone bother to number theirs? It is much like how now-a-days television broadcasts from around the world often are noted as being either “Live” or “Recorded earlier.” Fifty years ago, no television broadcast of an event from overseas could be shown live, so no one would have thought to bother to label a broadcast as “Recorded earlier.” Likewise, before the later nineteenth century, no printmakers would have thought of numbering their prints.

A second reason many prints are not numbered is that the numbering of prints is really limited to “fine art” prints that were intended to be marketed to discerning collectors who cared about such things. Most prints, as discussed in an earlier blog, are commercial prints that were not aimed at a collectors market and for those prints there was no reason to bother to number them. Most of these prints were, of course, issued in far greater number than the fine art prints which were numbered, but some of these are very rare today and, as discussed earlier, scarcity is not that important a factor in the value of most of these prints.

Finally, many modern, fine art printmakers just didn’t bother to number their prints. This could be for a number of reasons, such as the possibility they didn’t want to limit how many impressions they could run off, or they didn’t feel that it would help sell their prints, or whatever. Many modern prints are official impressions from a limited series even though they lack numbering. What is important for those who are purchasing modern, fine art prints is that you know whether the series in question was numbered. If you are looking at a print from a series that was never numbered, then the absence of a number means nothing, but if the series was numbered and the one you are looking at does not have one, you should either avoid that print or make sure you are paying only an appropriate price for such an impression.

The discussion above refers only to numbered prints in the usual sense of an indication that a particular print is impression X out of YY made. Many antique prints have just a single number of them, and one of the most common queries we get on our web site or at Antiques Roadshow is what this type of number means. Are these “numbered prints?” No; these are not what is usually considered a numbered print. These single numbers which appear on prints are what is called “stock” or “catalog” numbers, for they are the number of the print in a stock list or a print catalog issued by the printmaker. The same stock number appears on every example of that print. This number was used so that if you are a framer or printseller and you want to order prints from the publisher, you just put in an order for print #26 or three copies of #12 and two of #48, and so on.

A stock or catalog number is typically a single number that appears on the print, usually somewhere along the bottom. These numbers appear on quite a number of the mid-nineteenth century prints by publishers such as Currier & Ives or the Kelloggs, and also on many of the later decorative prints from the late 19th or early 20th century, by such publishers as J. Hoover & Sons. This means nothing about the print other than at one time it was listed in a stock list or catalog and identified by the publisher with the number. It adds no value to the print and is unrelated to the fine art “numbered prints” discussed above.

42 comments:

  1. Hi... Thanks for sharing information with us..nice blog..
    Cheer


    ___________________
    Jessica
    Get 28 movie channels for 3 months free

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  2. I purchased a print about 25 years ago at a local Art Festival it was untitled but signed 1 of 90. Today I went on the art's web-site and saw the exact same print for sale now titled and numbered 1 of 100. Your thoughts/comments regarding this practice?
    RS, Ormond Beach Florida

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  3. I have never heard of any such thing and it certainly sounds like something fishy is going on. The whole concept of numbering a print is that that is all there are of the prints. I suppose if an artist made a significant change to the plate so that, in effect, a new print was made, it would be legitimate to renumber the new state of the print, but this does not sound like that was done.

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  4. Is having a particular number on a print more "valuable"? For example, is #1/100 and/or #100/100 more valuable than any other numbers?

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  5. There is no definite answer to this, but I would say that in general it would be easier to sell #1/100, even if not necessarily for more money. Some collectors do like to have a particular number, but there is no clear financial difference in general for such numbers.

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  6. I hae a signed print numbered 'xxx/600'. How do I interpret the number? I haven't found any reference to the 'xxx' in the discussions and explainations on numbering prints.

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  7. I am sorry to say I have never seen that. My only guess is that this print was one of more than 600 printed off so they put in the XXX, but that is just a guess.

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  8. Thanks so much for your very informative blog, Chris.
    I understand the numbering system on prints however, what does "ed" mean..as in ed./150.

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  9. That means the print was issued in an edition of 150 impressions.

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  10. Thank you, Chris. Does that mean that the next print after the ed/150 would be 1/150 and that the ed print would be the first impression?
    Thank you again.
    pa Dickson

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  11. As I understand it, it means that the prints were not numbered; that every print was a "ed/150"

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  12. Thanks Chris,
    All my Eugene E. Loving prints are "ed/150" and "ed/200, so I appreciate the answer.

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    1. I also just acquired a Eugene E Loving print and it is Ed/200 so he must have done that on a regular basis.

      FYI . . . the work is called "The Marchand Court" and it cost me $6. I hope it was a good buy :)

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    2. I have the same print and it is also marked with Ed/200.

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  13. Hello Chris,

    I have a large (over 24 inches) late nineteenth century black and white lithograph(?) of a peacock. On the bottom right it says: "Kurz & Allison" and "Chicago" under that. On the left side there appears to be a cat # 1022. Any info you can give me would be highly appreciated as I cannot find any info online.

    thank you!!

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    1. There is actually a fair bit about Kurz & Allison on the web, including on the Philadelphia Print Shop web site. There is nothing about your particular print as there is nothing really to say about it beyond what you can say about all their prints. They were issued for decorative purposes to be framed and hung on the wall. The firm did issue mostly colored prints, but they did publish quite a number of uncolored prints for framing as well.

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    2. O.k., thanks for the response.

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  14. Picasso's 1958 painting 'Hands with flowers' became an iconic symbol of the 60's generation. I have what I believe is called a 'first run print' numbered 123/200. Does this have any value? Haven't taken the back off yet to investigate. Any info would be appreciated. Thanks, Dave

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  15. I have a I H E inv. S. Freudeberg del. with the #4 on it. What does that mean? Is it part of a series?

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    1. It can mean all sorts of things, but I suspect it means that it was indeed either part of a series or is a print from a book/portfolio and that is the plate number.

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  16. I have a old framed 26 x30 print by Frits Thaulow with very good quality I actually thought it was an oil painting because you can see all the brush strokes and true coloring. when I removed it from the frame the paper seems very old and is spotted in the back it is signed but on the back in bottom right stamped in red Printed In Germany. I have not been able to locate anything on the web about this .

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    1. This sounds like a typical German reproduction of a painting. They do very good work, with a realistic appearance, but they are simply reproductions. Nice items to frame and enjoy, but they have only decorative value. You also will not find any information about them as they are really just commercial items.

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  17. A General question about numbered prints.

    Every once in a while I'll come across a numbered print. I don't know the artist so I don't really know if there is any value (besides whether or not I like the picture). One of them, I can't even read the signature so I haven't been able to find out anything about it. Is selling these on eBay the only way to find out how much it's worth? For Example, I purchased a numbered print (212/950) by Ernest Robertson for $40, but I don't know the title of the piece. How would I know if I made a good investment?

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    1. Interesting question, but I think you are looking in the wrong place for value issues. The numbering of prints means nothing about value unless there is value for that artist's prints. Numbering means only that there were X number of prints and that the one you have is number Y. If no one cares about the artist's prints, who cares that, say, only 10 were made? Also, many very valuable prints were never numbered (as discussed above).

      As to value, I'll say first that selling something on ebay is not at all a good indication of value. Sure, a very famous print might bring its true value on ebay, but all the time I see prints sell for more than they are worth and also, especially with obscure artists, for far less than they are worth.

      The best way to check value is to go to one of the pricing sites on line which show you both dealer listings and auction listings. Even those are not perfect, but they are better than either the simple fact the print is numbered or what a print goes for on ebay.

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  18. I picked up a print by Will Barnet and it's signed and with artist Impresion on it. It is of his 1970 dialogue in green print. It's of the same subject just different colors. Would that make it more valuable or less than the numbered prints?

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  19. Is there something like the oldest existing/known numbered print (etch, litho, or other)?
    Maarten Nube, Leiden, Netherlands

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    1. Very interesting question. There obviously is an oldest numbered print, but I have never seen an citation on it. If you track it down, I'd be interested to learn of it.

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  20. I will try to find out more on this
    Maarten

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  21. CHRIS I HAVE VERY OLD PRINTS ..AFTER THE NAME ON THE BOTTOM LEFT ARE THE LETTERS inv.
    AND AFTER THE NAME ON THE BOTTOM RIGHT ARE THE LETTERS - inc.
    ITS FROM ITALY IF THAT HELPS ANY
    THANKS SO MUCH CHRIS

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    1. The name on the left is the person who drew the image and the name on the right is the person who engraved the image.

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  22. Thanks you so very much Chris,,can you tell me what the inv. stands for though and also the inc.
    I was thinking invented for the inv. and incised for the inc.
    Let's see if my guess is correct?
    Thank you again for your help Chris
    Dave

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    1. "Inventor, invenit, invt., inv., in." all stand for designed by.

      "Incidit, incidebat, incid., inc." all stand for engraved by.

      If you go to the Philadelphia Print Shop web site and go to the reference library, we have a listing of all sorts of abbreviations used on prints.

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  23. Chris my prints say L:daVinci inv: on lower left and C:Lafinio inc. on the lower right..and are from the Grotesque..hand colored on laid paper..scanning one as we speak and its incredible..held to light and pretty sure I seen a watermark also..snapped pics of that and looking forward to seeing if I can figure out watermark now..wish I could post a few pics of this Chris..its insane! Hey Chris I think these are 15th or 16th century..do you think so? Do you think Lafinio engraved after davinci drawings during davinci's lifetime,,I mean while davinci was still alive?Thanks again so very much for your time and wonderful help
    Dave

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    1. These are probably not period prints as there are lots of these around that were done later. If you can track down the watermark on the paper, that is how you can tell when the prints were made.

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    2. Thanks again Chris..the watermark I found a horse or maybe 2 horses..I researched and it looks like it is this-

      These sheets are believed to be from a mill in Fabriano, Italy
      chain laid papers c 1560 with watermarks
      This now would date them as da Vinci period pieces correct Chris?
      I have 4 more to go through yet so hopefully will get a crystal clear picture of the horse.I will keep you posted on what comes of this..thanks so very much for your help Chris

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  24. Trying to find out about a old print I bought at a sale. It has a copy right c with a circle around it and DC with the number 25 under it. Could you tell me what that means?

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  25. Hi Chris

    I have what I thought could have been an original watercolor painting by John Elwyn but now I know it is a print, due to the numbering on white frame.

    The number 328 is at the top, and beneath it is the number 80/90. The title of this piece is called, "The Orchard," and it also reads John Elwyn, 1976.

    Originally, I thought it could be an original because of the appearance of water and ink markings on the back of painting. Also, in researching the works of John Elwyn I can not find anything on this particular piece. Thanks for your response!

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    1. We do not handle prints that are this recent, so really do not know Elwyn's work. However, the number at the top does not make sense for a "numbered" print in the sense that it is used in this blog, so really not sure what it going on. It is, however, clearly a print and not a watercolor (doesn't mean it isn't hand colored...)

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  26. I have two Tim McGinnis lithos from 1976, They are of a library in US. They are signed by the artist in pencil but no number. They are of the Kaukauna Library and the waterwheel there also. They are mounted together side by side I wood frame with leaves at each corner

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  27. I inherited a Pieter de Hooch print of "Interior with a woman peeling apples" which has Medici Prints no. 46 on the back. I am wondering if it has any value?

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  28. I have a print of an abstract harlequin acrobat that is numbered U8/U15. What does the U mean?

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    1. I am sorry, but this is not a type of print we have come across and we do not know. Sorry we cannot help.

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