Looking At Prints | Top 10 Myths About Collecting Prints

Gunfight at OK Corral by Thom Ross, serigraph, 31 x 40, Martin-Harris Gallery, Jackson, WY. southwest art.
Gunfight at OK Corral by Thom Ross, serigraph, 31 x 40, Martin-Harris Gallery, Jackson, WY.

By Margaret L. Brown

What are the most common myths about prints? Ten dealers share the misconceptions they frequently encounter in their galleries.

Myth 1  Prints are not originals.“‘I don’t collect prints because they’re not originals’ is a statement I often hear,” says Marty Kruzich, owner of Martin-Harris Gallery, Jackson, WY. “People tend to confuse original with one-of-a-kind,” he says. “A serigraph, for instance, is an original work created directly by the artist using a silk-screening process. It is not a reproduction of a work in another medium.”

Myth 2  Limited-edition offset lithographs are the same as posters. “There is a difference between a limited-edition print and an open-edition print, or poster,” says owner Kathleen Ragland, Shared Visions Gallery, Delray Beach, FL. “We try to clarify the difference by showing buyers the edition number and artist’s signature on the limited-edition print, which indicates that the artist had hands-on involvement in the proofing process.”

Belle Lettres by Norman Laliberte, aquatint and drypoint, 291/2 x 295/8, John Szoke Graphics, New York, NY. southwest art.
Belle Lettres by Norman Laliberte, aquatint and drypoint, 291/2 x 295/8, John Szoke Graphics, New York, NY.

Myth 3  Number 1 in the edition is the most valuable. Every dealer we talked to named this as the most common misconception. “People think that if the print was pulled first, the quality is better,” says Cynthia Woody, owner of Cynthia Woody Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ. In general, numbering is an unimportant criterion. “Artists don’t necessarily number the prints in the order they were produced,” says Woody. “And with inkjet prints, for instance, all the printing instructions are stored on a computer disk, which means that every print in the edition is identical.”

Concern about edition number is justified in some cases, however. The lower-numbered impressions of a drypoint etching done by Whistler in 1890, for example, are sharper because the metal plate wears down with each print.

Myth 4  An artist’s proof is more valuable than a numbered print. Artist’s proofs (APs) are an additional, smaller number of prints often used for promotional purposes. “Some people think that since they are supposedly held back from the market, APs are worth more than the regular edition,” says John Szoke of John Szoke Graphics, New York, NY. “The truth is that once an AP enters the market, it is equal to any numbered print. The same applies to bon à tirer (BAT), hors commerce (HC) and épreuve d’artiste (EA) proofs.”

Reunion by Frank Howell, serigraph, 32 x 40, Frank Howell Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.
Reunion by Frank Howell, serigraph, 32 x 40, Frank Howell Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.

Myth 5  You can’t make a print using a canceled plate. Artists limit an edition by canceling the printing plate making deep scratches across its surface or punching holes in it. However, it is not uncommon to see impressions made from a canceled plate, says Sam Davidson, owner of Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA. “Usually it’s easy to spot a print made after cancellation because you can see the marks across the image.”

Myth 6  Framing a print decreases its resale value. “Quality framing does not adversely affect a print’s resale value,” says Director Rob Avellano, B&R Gallery, Canyon Country, CA. “But you have to be careful—a piece of tape or a thumb print on the margin can bring down the price.” B&R considers a print to be in mint condition when the image, border and certificate are pristine. “Ideally, the print should be suspended with museum corner mounts and surrounded by acid-free materials,” Avellano adds.

Myth 7  The artist is not involved in creating an inkjet print. While a print technician produces an inkjet print, many artists are closely involved in the proofing process. Artist William Matthews, for example, works with printer Nash Editions, Manhattan Beach, CA, to ensure the reproductions match his original watercolors as closely as possible. “Color correction is a slow, painstaking process,” says Director Tina Goodwin, William Matthews Gallery, Denver, CO. “Nash may run as many as 35 proofs before Matthews is satisfied.”

M Series Compassion by Jerome Tupa, Giclee, 70 x 60, Cynthia Woody Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.
M Series Compassion by Jerome Tupa, Giclée, 70 x 60, Cynthia Woody Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.

Myth 8  All lithographs are created equal. People often confuse original lithographs with photo-offset lithographs, says Virginia Dooley, director of Navajo Gallery, Taos, NM. For an original lithograph, an artist draws an image directly onto a metal, mylar or stone plate, which is then inked and printed. A photo-offset lithograph is a reproduction of an original painting using photographic technology.

Myth 9  All graphics are limited to four colors. While offset lithographs are often printed in four colors (variations of black, cyan, magenta and yellow in dot patterns), other printing techniques allow a wider spectrum of color hues, says Larry Gomes, the new owner of Frank Howell Gallery, Santa Fe, NM. A serigraph may be printed with up to 50 ink colors, he says, and a stone lithograph with more than 100.

Myth 10  You can’t tell a canvas-transfer print from an original. “It’s hard to distinguish a high-quality canvas-transfer print from an original painting,” says owner Nancy Anderson, Pine Creek Art Gallery, Colorado Springs, CO. “But if you look at the back of a canvas-transfer print, you’ll see a slight film coating.” And if the print is produced by a reputable publisher, you can generally tell it from an original because it is signed and numbered.

Featured in “Looking at Prints” April 1997