Understanding Your Print and the Value of its Edition

We often get asked, what do the numbers and letters on a print mean? And more pertinently, how do they relate to a print’s value? Fair enough. From AP, CP, TP, PP, HC through to BAT, the world of prints truely embraces acronyms.
So, to settle any confusion here’s our brief breakdown on the elusive relationships between prints, editions, acronyms and their relative desirability.
 
 
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, an edition is 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 valuable and collectable.
 
Limited edition prints are marked with their edition number and the number of the print, for example a marking of 1/20 on a limited edition print means that that individual print is the first of 20 works in that edition. In contrast, open editions have no limit on the number of prints produced and because of this, are generally not as valuable as limited edition prints. 
 

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 the cherry on the cake.

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. 
 

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 after the death of the artist.

 

 

Charles Blackman - 'Dream Image'

 

A Glossary of Acronyms

Outside of 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 list of 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.
 

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. In other words, this print has met the artist’s standards. Bon appetite!  
 

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. That is, it was intended 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 grand 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 and that’s how they end up in the marketplace. Happy Collecting!
 
 
To learn more about each acronym, click here for our glossary of Print Edition terms.