As well as a wonderful trip down memory lane for any music and art fan, signed limited edition fine art photographic prints are fast becoming a wise investment. For the 'uninitiated' into the art world, here is a quick guide to help you.
Unlike a one off painting, prints are produced from photographic film, negative or digital file and are referred to by the technique used to produce them; lithography, silk-screening or Giclée.
The total number of times the image is printed is called the ‘edition’ and this number of prints in each ‘edition’ is decided by the artist and publisher. Each print in the edition is signed and numbered by the artist.
The international art market decides the price, based on the principles of supply and demand. If a signed and numbered limited-edition print is in demand and the supply is no longer there, the price will go up.
However, price also very much depends on the condition of the print. Works on paper are extremely delicate and can easily be damaged by mishandling, poor framing, exposure to strong light and, of course, the passage of time. Prints in good condition are more sought after by collectors and therefore their prices are higher.
Here are some tips as to what serious print collectors should look for:
1) If the print is mounted on a board or framed, take it out of the frame. The mount might be hiding all sorts of condition problems: tears, stains, etc. Even if the printed image is in good condition, the condition of the paper around it is important to the market value. Try not to buy prints that need restoration, as the requisite cleaning will always take something away from a print, even if it is done by a professional restorer.
2) Check the colours - try to see if they are fresh and not faded. Of course, you can't fight the passage of time and a print made 30 years ago will not be as fresh today as it was when it had just been made. However, you should check this against what you are being asked to pay.
3) Check the signature - even if you are not an expert on the particular artist's signature, look to see if it has been written with the confidence of someone writing their own name. Check the numbering too to make sure somebody hasn't tried to 'expand the limits’ of the limited-edition by changing the numbers (the artists’ & publishers’ web sites are a good reference point).
4) Always make sure that framed prints are conservation-framed using acid-free materials. If not, you should change the frame immediately.
A reputable art dealer should make all of the above checks for you and disclose any problems. In these days of selling online – via website and auctions – it is sad to say that this is not always the case and the auction house principle of caveat emptor (buyer beware) does still operate. So never be ashamed to ask about any of your concerns before buying. In the end, if in doubt, do not buy it.