Differentiating originals from reproductions can be difficult, especially when the artistic media used to create an artist’s work has changed so dramatically over the years. Original etchings, lithographs, serigraphs, and aquatints, for example, are easy to differentiate because they do not show a dot matrix (classically associated with reproductions of original works of art).
The challenge today is that many contemporary artists use mass media for reproducing images such as off-set lithography, collotypes, and Giclée to reproduce their works. However, this does not necessarily mean that these works are not original works of fine art. The following conditions are necessary in order to be considered original works of fine art:
Certificates for graphic works are in general, worth the paper they are printed on.
- Hand-signed & Numbered: Works must be hand-signed by the artist and numbered in limited editions. As an example of this, the vast majority of Warhol prints – while among the most collected in the world – are all photo-mechanically reproduced and are not classically considered original serigraphs or lithographs. But because this is the only way Warhol worked, these pieces are considered original works, even though they technically are not. We understand this is a confusing distinction to make and We are happy to be contacted on a piece-by-piece basis to explain the level of involvement by the artist with each work.
- Catalogue Raisonné Information & Documentation: Be sure that the print corresponds to the printed documentation in a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s, publisher’s, or printer’s work. Artists did not make an original work in 3 different sizes, for example; only 1 size of an original work is typically produced. A good, thorough catalogue raisonné will tell you the technique of manufacture, size of image, size of the printed sheet, and the edition size. There is a minor caviot to this: some areas of printmaking are not documented properly or thoroughly and mistakes can be found in those catalogues that do exist. This is relatively rare and can be explained in other ways.
- Lifetime Impressions vs. Re-Strikes: A print produced during an artist’s lifetime will have certain qualities and characteristics that are documented in the artist’s catalogue raisonnés. Re-strikes, later impressions, or posthumous works fall in another category. These works are usually printed from original plates. However, the artist did not authorize their creation. They may have been authorized by the artist’s estate, but their value is diminished over that of an original work pulled under the artist’s direction and supervision during his or her lifetime. Both are collectable, but the values will vary greatly.
- Certificates of Authenticity (COAs): Certificates for graphic works are in general, worth the paper they are printed on; they are only as good as the company who issues them. Having said that, certain COAs are better than others and they should only contain factual information, verifiable by outside sources.
For older works of art, much of this information remains unknown, especially prior to 1900. Unique works of art (as opposed to original prints) frequently come with COAs by the designated member(s) of an artist’s family who have the moral right to authenticate a work of art.
Provenance is the known history of the ownership of an object. It begins with the person responsible for the creation or production of the object and continues as an ongoing record of ownership until the item is destroyed or lost. This particular record is crucial for establishing the authenticity of the object.
This is why we fully disclose to our buyer the provenance of their purchased piece if we are aware of it. In the art world, provenance is a luxury rather than the norm, so when buying a work of art, trust in your seller is paramount.
Please find the following excerpt on COA requirements as stated by the State of California Civil Code 1744 (as of 2012):
- The name of the artist
- Information about any artist’s signature appearing on the multiple, such as whether the artist signed it personally or whether it was stamped by the artist’s estate, or by some other source.
- A description of the medium or process used in producing the multiple such as etching, engraving, lithographic, serigraphic, Giclee or a particular method or material used in any photographic developing processes.
- A statement about any photomechanical, photographic, or surmoulage (for sculpture) process used to create a multiple of an image produced in a different medium, for a purpose other than the creation of the multiple being described, and a statement of the respective mediums.
- If a photomechanical, photographic or surmoulage process was used, and the multiple is not signed, a statement about whether the artist authorized or approved in writing creation of the multiple or the edition.
- Information about whether the artist was deceased at the time the master was made which produced the multiple.
- Information about whether it is a “posthumous” multiple, that is, where the master was created during the life of the artist but the multiple was produced after the artist’s death.
- If it is a second or later edition of multiples made from a master that produced a prior limited edition, or if the master for this edition was made from a print or master that was made from a prior multiple, this shall be stated. In addition, the total number of multiples, including proofs, of all other editions produced from that master must be stated.
- The year, or approximate year, the multiple was produced shall be stated, if the multiple was created after 1949. For multiples produced prior to 1950, the certificate must state the year, approximate year or period when the master was made and when that particular multiple was produced.
- Information about whether the edition is being offered as a limited edition, and if so: (i) the authorized maximum number of signed or numbered impressions or both, in the edition; (ii) the authorized maximum number of unsigned or unnumbered impressions, or both, in the edition; (iii) the authorized maximum number of artist’s, publisher’s or other proofs, if any, outside of the regular edition; and (iv) the total size of the edition.
- Whether or not the master has been destroyed, effaced, altered, defaced, or canceled after the current edition. If for example the master screens have been destroyed, then the atelier cannot make any additional images more of that image.
- If the multiple is part of a limited edition that was printed after January 1, 1983, that statement of the size of the limited edition also constitutes an express warranty that no additional multiples of the same image, including proofs, have been produced in this or in any other limited edition.
For more information on the California Civil Code Section 1744: