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Understanding Your Print and the Value of its Edition

Collectors often ask us, what do the numbers and letters on a print mean? And beyond this, how do they relate to a print’s value? From AP, CP, TP, PP, HC through to BAT, the world of prints truely embraces acronyms.
 
To help decode this, here's our breakdown on the elusive relationships between prints, editions, acronyms and their relative desirability.

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Publisher Jeffrey Makin from Port Jackson Press with artist Charles Blackman, signing and editioning the etching edition of 'Dancing Children - Blue'.  
 

Limited and Open Edition Prints

In printmaking, the term 'edition' refers to the total number of prints struck from one plate. There are typically two types of print editions: limited and open. Limited edition means that a fixed number of prints or impressions are produced, thus making the print more scarce, valuable and collectable.
 
Limited edition prints are marked with both their edition size and number (meaning at what point in the edition run it was struck). A marking of 1/20 for example, delineates that that specific print was the first of 20 works in an edition.
 
In contrast, open editions have no limit on the number of prints produced and consequently, are generally not as valuable as limited edition prints. To note however, just because a work stems from an open edition, it does not necessarily mean its volume is infinite. Some artists may leave their edition open, but allow only a few impressions to be struck.   
 
 

Editions and Value

The value of a print is shaped by factors like quality, notoriety and rarity. The collectability of a print for example, will increase if the image is desirable, the artist  is acclaimed or the edition length is limited.
 
If a print run is small, then a print’s value is enhanced by its relative rarity. A publisher may also raise the price of the edition impression incrementally as the edition sells and prints become scarcer. Hence, you may pay more for a later impression in an edition that comes direct from the publisher. 
 
When it comes to resale, the impression number does not make a substantial difference to market value. After all, each impression is largely identical, perhaps with only minor differences from the press or artist. 
 
 

How many editions?

Generally speaking, for contemporary art to steadily increase in value the size of the edition is best kept low, perhaps between 10 and 50 editions. Higher limited editions are usually reserved for iconic works from highly collectible artists like Charles Blackman or John Olsen. Because these prints still sell out, these artists can enjoy the fame that a popular print-run brings.
 
  

Future Value

Limited edition prints retain and can often increase in value. Whether this is the case however, depends on the artist. Our advice is and has always been, collect art you love – and when or if it appreciates in value consider this an added bonus.
  
 

The Chop Mark 

A Chop Mark is a mark or seal made with an embossing tool in the margin of an etching or lithograph. It signifies that a print has come from a particular publisher – either the printmaker’s own studio press, or a separate master printmaker. The chop mark holds particular meaning for the printmaker and publisher. In addition to the artist’s signature, it also reinforces the print's authenticity. 
 
 
 
Charles Blackman's 'Visage II' is adorned with both a chop mark from Port Jackson Press (the work's publisher) and a stamp that reads the artist's name in Japanese. The stamp was obtained during Charles's successful 1973 exhibition at Tokyo's Fuji Television Gallery. 

Branded with Charles's initials, stamp and Port Jackson Press's chop mark, 'Visage II' has been verified three-fold. Not only a sign of authenticity, these marks also indicate that Charles was satisfied with the finished print – he signed off on it.
  
  
Charles signing and stamping a collection of his works. Photograph courtesy of Auguste Blackman. 
  
 

Lifetime and Late Impressions

Prints can also be identified as 'lifetime impressions’ and ‘late impressions’. Lifetime impressions describe prints produced during the artist’s lifetime whereas late impressions are those produced posthumously. 
Common sense dictates that prints created during an artist's lifetime are likely more valuable than late impressions. They are after all, more likely to bear the artist's hand both in creation and signature. 
 
 
 
Charles Blackman - 'Dream Image'

  

 

A Glossary of Acronyms

 

Beyond the edition number and chop mark, sit a range of acronyms. While none of these guarantee additional value, some hold special significance for collectors. Here is a rundown on some collectable acronyms.
 

AP: Artist Proof or E.A

Artist’s Proofs are often marked ‘A.P’ or the French version ‘E.A’ (or E. d’A meaning ‘épreuve d'artiste’). Approximately ten percent of a print run are assigned as Artist Proofs. These prints are usually kept by the artist as a record of the print’s progression, but can also be released to market.
 
While there is no clear correlation between a print’s value and its status as an AP, some collectors relish APs because they are tied to an artist’s personal collection.
 
Pasquale Giardino - 'Leapard Man' (sic) (left), the linocut which bore the print (right) and the artist's title, edition and signature (below).  
 
Astute collectors may notice that Pasquale Giardino has not only misspelled Leopard as 'Leapard' but also inscribed the print with 'OP' when he meant AP. A child of punk, Giardino creates outside the bounds of art and the English language. 

What was an error now lives in the bones of 'Leapard Man'; when you're jamming to your own beat, there's no need for spell check. 
 

BAT: Bon a Tirer

Deriving from the French phrase meaning ‘good to pull’, Bon a Tirer prints delineate the standard to which all other prints will be held to. They, in other words, meet the artist’s standards. Bon appetite!  
 
 
The acclaimed Rick Amor is a deeply considered artist. Before creating a screen print, he produces a painting study. As a BAT, ‘The City’ is a perfect proof – an intensely evocative cityscape drenched in golden light. 
 

CP: Colour Proof

A Colour Proof is used to test which colours best express the artist’s intention. This is usually done prior to signing off on the BAT.
  

HC: Hors d’Commerce Proof

If a print is signed Hors d’Commerce or HC, it means this print was destined for promotional use, most commonly as a sample for galleries or dealers. Again, there’s no explicit advantage to seeking out a HC proof except if you are interested in the object’s ‘journey’.
  

TP - Trial Proof

The Trial Proof is created so that an artist can examine and perfect a work’s intricacies before commencing the official print run. These trial impressions may not exactly mirror the final edition and some collectors may appreciate their unique nuances.
 

 PP - Printers Proof

This edition is usually held by the printer and can be signed by the artist. It operates as both a gesture of appreciation from the artist and a record for the printer.
 
Sometimes a printer will sell their gifted P/P because it constitutes a part of their payment, which is how they end up in the marketplace. 
 
 
To learn more about each acronym, click here for our glossary of Print Edition terms.
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