Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Limited Edition Print - What is it anyway?

I was talking to someone the other day who asked the question - what is a Limited Edition print anyway? They understood the concept but I don't blame them for being confused the way the term is used and abused today. It makes that question an important one.

Technically speaking almost anything that has a pre-defined number of copies can be considered a limited edition - but now most people have forgotten where this originally came from. Back in the days of the "stone" age - OK, I mean where artists used to etch images on stone, copper or any rigid hard surface and then make prints from those etchings - the limited edition came into play.

The reason was simple - once you inked the etching and transferred the image to paper for a few prints, the original etching would start to wear and eventually would no longer transfer a sharp defined image. As a result, the artist started to number how many images were made from any one original and once they determined that the quality had eroded to the point that it was no longer acceptable - they would call that the end of the edition. Most often the original stone or plate was defaced or destroyed so no further copies could be made - meaning that whatever number had been printed was all there would be. In other words a truly limited number - thus limited edition.

That is often the reason why "Artist Proofs" incurred more value to eventual collectors than the prints themselves. These were often the very first "pulls" from the original plate so that the artist could check the quality and thus often the "sharpest" images. If they were good and accepted by the artist - people eventually came to see these as having more value than the last prints produced which might not be as good.

The practice was carried over to modern day printing - despite the fact that using digital or offset printing methods resulted in each print being virtually identical and each one being as good a quality as the next. However, to this day people will pay more for an "Artist Proof" than a regular print and this has resulted in creating a Limited Edition within the original Edition of prints

For good definitions on printing and publishing terms, see:

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