What Gives Prints their value?

Prints on the market can range anywhere from a computer-printed version of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre gift shop to a Picasso linocut that is valued near a million dollars. Even just looking specifically at Rembrandt etchings, the prices can vary greatly.

Given a multitude of considerations, one of these could sell for about $5,000 while another may be worth $60,000, and others in the upper hundred thousands.

Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn, Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print), 29.4 x 40.5 cm, Etching, Sold by Christies for $59,300 USD.
Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn, Christ Healing the Sick (The Hundred Guilder Print), 29.4 x 40.5 cm, Etching, Sold by Christies for $59,300 USD.

With this in mind, collectors must be careful when purchasing prints. No one wants to put their money into an impression and then find out that it has little or no value. To avoid this from happening, consider the following before making any large print purchases!

Is there a considerable amount of burr?

It is obvious, what you need to consider is the quality of the image. It is important that all the lines are continuous and unbroken, with rich coloring. There should be no or few areas where the ink did not take or where it only lightly marked the paper.

B. H. Giza, Close-up that shows the burred line in a drypoint print
B. H. Giza, Close-up that shows the burred line in a drypoint print

A way to tell an okay print from an excellent print, especially when considering drypoint prints, is the amount of burr in the impression. When artists etch into their plates to create the impressions, bits of material form and are thrown up around the incisions on the block.

When the block is inked and pressed onto the paper, the ink sticks to these tiny bits of material. This creates a luscious, soft, velvety line when pressed onto paper.

As multiple impressions are created using the same printing block, the material begins to wear off, creating copies with less and less burr. The earlier printed impressions with more burr are worth more than later impressions.

Though only the trained eye may notice burr and its velvety nature is only truly visible up close, burr adds to the whole image, making it seem multidimensional and vivid from across the room.

Are there margins around the image?

Francisco Goya, Hilan Delgado, from Los Caprichos, 1st edition, 1799, etching and burnished aquatint on laid paper with substantial margins
Francisco Goya, Hilan Delgado, from Los Caprichos, 1st edition, 1799, etching and burnished aquatint on laid paper with substantial margins

The actual printing plate usually does not go over the edges of the paper. There should be some sort of blank margin around the actual image since an artist would not use paper smaller than the printing block.

If there is no margin, it is possible that the paper has been cut down. Simply cutting the paper lowers the value since the original work has been changed and without the margin, it is hard to prove that the entire image is visible and has not been reduced by the cut.

What is the condition of the paper?

In the same way that craquelure can lower the value of a painting, poor paper quality will do the same for the overall print. Since many types of paper are delicate and many prints, specifically Old Master Prints, date back to the 1500’s, prints are not expected to look like new but better condition paper leads to better preserved prints, resulting in higher valued prints.

This includes paper that has been torn or folded. Even something as simple as dirty paper, whether it be a spot or discoloration to the whole sheet, can lower a print’s value.

Albrecht Dürer, Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943 (43.106.2).
Albrecht Dürer, Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943 (43.106.2)

 

Albrecht Dürer, three details of Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), engraving. Left: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943 (43.106.2). Image ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Middle: The Frick Collection (1916.3.03). Image ©The Frick Collection; Right: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry G. Friedman Bequest, 1966 (66.521.95). Image ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Albrecht Dürer, three details of Knight, Death, and the Devil (1513), engraving. Left: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943 (43.106.2). Image ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Middle: The Frick Collection (1916.3.03). Image ©The Frick Collection; Right: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry G. Friedman Bequest, 1966 (66.521.95). Image ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Also, if you are thinking of purchasing a cheaper, poor condition print and then just getting it repaired, this could also lower the value in many cases. Anything that alters a work from its earliest state could affect the value. Always, check the prints for visible prior repairs before purchasing.

Was the impression printed during the artist’s life?

Of course, like almost all art, the prestige of the artist can increase the value of the work. A work done by a historically recognized master, like Rembrandt, will be worth much more than a work completed by an unknown hand.

Due to the reproducible quality of prints, it is assumed that a Master’s shop helped in the act of printmaking, but it is important for the value to prove that the work is a lifetime impression. It will be worth more if you can prove that the artist was alive at the time of the printing and in turn, carved the printmaking plate themselves.

Rembrandt Hermansz Van Rijn, Christ Crucified between two Thieves, The Three Crosses (3rd State), 1653, Etching & Drypoint
Christ Crucified between two Thieves, The Three Crosses (3rd State) Rembrandt Hermansz Van Rijn, 1653, Etching & Drypoint

 

Rembrandt Hermansz Van Rijn, Christ Crucified between two Thieves, The Three Crosses (3rd State), 1653, Etching & Drypoint
Christ Crucified between two Thieves, The Three Crosses (3rd State), Rembrandt Hermansz Van Rijn, 1653, Etching & Drypoint

An example of a way to prove that a print is a lifetime impression is to determine that the plate was changed after the current impression was printed and that a later state exists. Rembrandt changed the direction of the horse from this state to the next, proving he was alive to change the plate. Later states do not have that privilege. (see above images)

A signature written by hand could work the same, though early printmakers did not usually sign but stamp their signature. Prints without Picasso’s handwritten signature are worth significantly less than those bearing it.

What printmaking technique was used?

The printmaking technique can increase or decrease the value of the work. If the process was more labor intensive the value will be reflected in the work. This includes large prints, complicated techniques such as lithography, or extremely detailed images.

Pablo Picasso, Bearded Man Crowned in Greenery (artist’s proof), Linocut, 1962.
Bearded Man Crowned in Greenery (artist’s proof), Pablo Picasso, Linocut, 1962

Another aspect to consider when estimating the price of a work is where the print was created. If the print comes from an esteemed print shop like, say Rembrandt’s shop or, on a more contemporary level printer, the value may be higher.

The technique could also be of interest when it comes to novelty. For example, if an artist only made one etching and multiple woodcuts, the etching would have more value. If an artist was the first person to use multiple colors in their linocut print, like Picasso, then those may also have a higher price tag.

How many of these were printed?

Since prints are just that, something that can be reproduced multiple times, the rarity of the series is important. Prints with less than 200 impressions are considered limited edition and therefore worth more. The more prints made, the less they are worth.

Albrecht Dürer, The Apocalyptic Woman, from The Apocalypse series, 1511, Woodcut
Albrecht Dürer, The Apocalyptic Woman, from The Apocalypse series, 1511, Woodcut

This becomes a little more complicated when dealing with some prints. Even if Albrecht Dürer made hundreds of one print, the fact that most paper from the 1500s are now in poor condition those that have been maintained in better condition will certainly retain a higher value, even if they were not originally that limited.

The market itself is always something to consider as well. If most of the prints in the edition are already in museum collections, the ones on the market will have a higher value, even if more technically exist in the world, most are unavailable to collectors.

So should you buy a print?

Prints can be a diverse area for collectors. They range from Old Masters to the most contemporary works available on the market today. As you can see, their values range just the same.

Banksy, Love is in the Air Unsigned, 1974, Screen Print, edition of 500
Love is in the Air Unsigned, Banksy, 1974, Screen Print, edition of 500

Once you decide what kind of prints you want and how much you want to invest into them, then you can go about looking to purchase. Remember all the nuances and details that go into their value and consider the tips above!

Prints on the market can range anywhere from a computer-printed version of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre gift shop to a Picasso linocut that is valued near a million dollars. Even just looking specifically at Rembrandt etchings, the prices can vary greatly.

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