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What Are Numbered Art Prints?

A piece of artwork like this could be valuable if it is signed an numbered by the artist.
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If you are in possession of a numbered art print), you have something rare and original. Many people collect numbered prints because they are originals created by the artist, and not printed reproductions. Having an original, numbered piece of art means you have something of intrinsic value. You can boast about being truly connected to the artist, whether you hang the print in your living room, den or even your basement.


A fine art print is one that is made by the artist, one impression at a time. They are multiple originals and are sometimes etched by the artist using a copper or zinc plate. A reproduction, also called a poster, iris or gliclee print, has little monetary value and does not personally involve the artist. They are mechanically photo-produced using a printer. Reproductions are usually printed by the thousands.


The numbers on an artist’s artwork are there to denote its authenticity and the originality of the artist’s work. An original, numbered work of art will have the artist’s signature -- usually in the lower, right- or left-hand corner, and a number in the opposite corner. On a piece that belongs to an artist’s original edition, you will see two numbers separated by a slash mark. The first number represents the order in which the artist signed the print. The second, or bottom, number is the number of prints that are in that edition.


Numbering art prints was a practice that artists began in the late 19th century. At first, artists only put numbers on their artwork until the edition ended. In the early 20th century, art enthusiasts demanded that the prints also include the size of the edition. This started the practice that artists carry on today of including both the number of the print and the number of prints in the edition. It was not until the 1950's that artists began adding to an edition proofs and other prints that were not part of the original edition.

Proof Types

A trial proof is created before an edition is released to see what the artwork looks like as the artist is in the process of creating it. There is usually a much smaller number of these and they are all different since the piece of art is a work in progress. A bon a tirer proof, also called a “good to print” proof, is the final trial proof, Only one of these usually exists for each edition. It is an ideal print that all prints in the edition should emulate. A posthumous edition contains prints created after the death of an artist.

Additional Documentation

Many original prints today are accompanied by certificates of authenticity. The certificate usually includes the numbers that appear on the print, the name of the workshop where the print was made, the date of the printing and the techniques used. It will also include the artist’s signature.

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