Numbering of Multiple art works
by Andries Loots
6 July 2003

Graphic processes for making art date back centuries, but it is only during the twentieth century that collectors have widely included limited-edition graphic works in investment art collections. 

Limited editions are numbered in various ways and one sometimes encounters unfamiliar differences in numbering of proofs which may appear mystifying.
It is customary today for artists to complete full runs of works in graphic techniques like etching, lithograph, or chine collť. Such a run is known as an edition, usually printed by the artist in collaboration with a master printer. Once printed, individual prints are laid out or hung up to dry and then pressed flat. Faulty ones are removed from the edition and destroyed; only then the remaining ones are numbered. Frequently the original printing sequence is not adhered to; a pile of works are simply numbered from top to bottom and signed by the artist. Thus number 3/45 is not necessarily the third print of the edition, and therefore it is a misconception to believe that the lower the number on the edition the better the print will be. The quality of each individual print should be inspected. However, in drypoint where the burr on the plate wears away, the first prints are in fact better defined. This can also hold true for very large editions, depending on the process used. 

Limited editions are usually inscribed in the bottom left hand corner, signed by the artist and dated. Photographs might be signed and numbered on the back of the image on a separate label. Numbering appears as a fraction, of which the numerator (above the line) represents the unique number of the specific print, while the denominator (under the line) indicates the total number of prints in the edition. 
In addition to the numbered works in an edition, a number of proofs outside the edition may also be made by the artist or the printer and are numbered as follows:

AP - Artist's Proof
These 'final state' proofs are reserved for the private use of the artist. Sometimes numbered, for example AP 3/5 (the third proof of five Artist Proofs).

TP - Trial Proof
These proofs, of which there may be only one or several, are occasionally done during the creative printmaking process when the artist needs to inspect the image at uncompleted stages. Such early prints of an edition, also knows as states, are usually unique and therefore highly desirable to collectors.

CTP - Colour Trial Proof
Proofs done during the printing process to show colour variation. 

RTP/ BAT - Right to print / Bon a Tirer
This is the first proof of the edition which the artist declares completely satisfactory. It is then used by the printer as a standard against which the quality of all subsequent proofs in the edition is judged. 

PP - Printers Proof
These proofs are reserved for the printer as a reference.

WP - Workshop Proof
A proof on which the artist has worked manually to indicate changes to the printer or for future reference. 
A - Archival Proof
These proofs are done for the archive of the printer, publisher or museum.

SP - Special Proof
These are special proofs done by the artist, and usually carry a dedication indicating his/her intentions.

HC - Hors de Commerce
A proof pulled outside the edition for personal use of the artist or the publisher. Usually done instead of Artistís Proofs.
Generally depending on how many impressions are made, these special proofs are as valuable as the ones included in the edition. 
Unsigned limited-edition works must be regarded with suspicion. Often, there is no guarantee that blocks, plates or stones were cancelled after printing the edition. Sometimes it happens that the family of an artist or the trustees of an estate may give permission for a reprint of an edition, which is then referred to as Restrike. These may be printed posthumously or sometimes without the artistís permission from the original blocks, plates or stones. 
[ HOME ]

[ previous ARTicles ]