Original Prints and Limited Editions

The notion of limited editions and the numbered prints that go with them is a notion that developed in the late 19th century. Earlier prints were limited in the number of their impressions solely by market demand or by the maximum number that could be printed by the medium used.

A limited edition print is one in which a limit is placed on the number of impressions printed in order to create a scarcity of the print. Limited editions are usually numbered and are often signed to increase prestige, rarity and to induce building collections.
The number of prints in any edition is established by the photographer beforehand, each print in the edition is signed and numbered by the photographer. There are usually two numbers separated by a slash, (for example: 3/50). this means that 50 prints are the total prints of this numbered edition, while 3 is the specific designation for that particular print.

Every edition also has photographer’s proofs (A.P.), which are extra prints printed by the photographer to proof the edition. There can also be different states from any particular editions, as well as publisher's prints. The photographer’s proofs or publisher's prints may never exceed 10% of the total number of impressions in one edition.

Once an edition is complete the original film negative or digital negative are destroyed so that no more can be made. Sometimes if a particular images is found to be in demand, a second limited edition may be printed Prints may not not be signed and numbered in the order in which they were printed. Therefore, an impression with a lower number isn't more valuable or better than an impression with a higher number.

What increases value in a print?

A natural consequence of making prints by hand is difference within the edition when interpretive variations occur when a print from a film negative is scanned in for larger print than can be make in a darkroom. Does that decrease the value of a print because it was printed digitally? Not necessarily, if the print is with in the limited edition number, signed, numbered and has a certificate of authenticity then the value may be more depending on the number of that size of print. More than 8 could be consider to be posters, there for the value decreases. Value can increased with a very small Limited addition such as one or two prints are printed and no others from that film or digital negative are created.

The price of each print is generally based on the size of the edition; prints from a limited edition, are worth more than those from an unlimited edition. The smaller the edition, the more valuable it is.
Although in editions all prints look the same, slight differences are always found. The master printer or the photographer himself will constantly check for consistency and sameness when printing an edition, but this is not always easy to obtain; when hand printing in the darkroom from a film negative there maybe slight differences in each print, that only the photographer will see.
Prints can also be manipulated on purpose when printing, creating a different print each time. This is also known and mono printing.

Each Limited Edition print is accompanied with documentation, a certificate of authenticity (COA) which states in detail the kind of print, details of the edition size, the number of the print being sold, the paper used as well as photographer’s information and signature.



Certificate of Authenticity

A certificate of authenticity (COA) originates from and is signed by the photographer who created the print, or by the publisher of the print, a confirmed established dealer or agent of the photographer.. 

A valid COA must contain specific details about the image such as what the medium is photography in this case, the exact title of the print, dimensions, details of the edition size if it is a limited edition, the number of photographer proofs and the photographer's signature.
A valid certificate of authenticity should contain verifiable documented proof or evidence of why the print is genuine.
All certificates of authenticity must be original documents (not photocopies), hand-signed by the authenticator. Unscrupulous sellers use a legitimate certificate to forge a new one by photocopying or scanning the certificate itself, do some photoshop retouches and then use them to "authenticate" works of print illegally.
A statement that a print is genuine is NOT valid proof of authenticity unless made by an established and respected authority or the photographer themselves. That authority's qualifications should be stated on the certificate, or be otherwise easily accessible and verifiable. In case contact information is inadequate and the signature is illegible or unidentifiable, a COA is not acceptable; the source of a COA must be traceable..

If you have any questions about a certificate of authenticity, contact the individual who authored it and get the answers BEFORE you buy the print. When the contact information on a certificate of authenticity is no longer valid or is out-of-date, contact a current authority or expert on the photographer. If however, the certificate was authored by a legitimate authority on the photographer (living or otherwise), it is very likely adequate proof that the print is genuine no matter how long ago it was written.

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