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3 Secret Codes found on Prints

by Dr. Lori Verderame
3 Secret Codes found on Prints

Most people understand the basics when it comes to identifying prints. Some of the important info on prints is in the marks on the print itself. Most limited-edition prints are signed by the artist in pencil as seen in this example of Alexander Calder prints and numbered by the printer using the format that looks like a fraction. So, that fraction tells us that the numerator (top number) stands for the number of that particular print in the sequence of the print run like 1 of 100 or 321 of 1,000 prints. The denominator (bottom number) stands for the total number of prints that are printed in that print run. This number is usually the larger of the two numbers in that fraction.

And, with limited edition prints, there are better and more valuable prints when compared to other prints in a run. Thomas Kinkade was famous for his limited edition prints. Some of the more complicated aspects of markings on prints will help you understand what to look for when collecting and valuing prints. Watch me show you how to identify valuable prints. Here are some of the more complicated markings that may be found on limited edition prints.

1. What does the "AP" mark Mean?

Piranesi  prints

AP, a mark typically found on the bottom left of a print, stands for Artist's Proof. An Artist Proof is the print that is part of a print run which has been reviewed in person by the artist himself or herself at the printer's shop. This print is highly sought after because it is believed that the artist personally reviewed this particular print and probably touched the print with his/her own hands and laid his/her eyes on it to assess the level of quality in the printing. Actually, the artist may or may not show up to proof the printer's work before the first limited edition (e.g. 1/100) print in the print run comes off the print press. Also, don't forget that the AP mark could easily be forged, so don't use it as the only indicator. Read about valuable works that are not marked.

Artist's proofs are printed along with all of the other prints and then one is set aside for the artist to review at his or her convenience. They would be left out in the numerical sequence and left unnumbered and later marked with A.P. for Artist Proof. After the artist proofs a print, the process of printing the rest of the print run may be altered or changed resulting from the artist's suggestions regarding the print run. How to tell if you have a print or poster?

2. What does the "EA" mark Mean?

EA is a mark found on prints that relates to the French tradition of printing limited edition prints. EA means that the artist has personally proofed an entire run of limited edition prints. These prints will be more valuable and pricey when compared to other limited-edition print runs because the artist is more involved in the printing process. EA references the French term for artist's proof or to be exact translates as "epreuve d'artiste." There is no difference between a print or prints marked EA and one marked with the typical artist's proof mark, AP. Watch how to identify markings on prints.

3. What does the "HC" mark Mean?

HC is another notation that may be found on an artist's limited-edition print. HC means "hors commerce" or not for commerce or not for sale. This is another type of print that is set aside from the regular numbered edition prints or proofs. These HC prints are the prints that are used for exhibition purposes in galleries, museums, etc. The little known but pretty important HC notation assures that these particular prints are reserved to represent the artist's work when on display. These HC prints are not handed too much and are often free of any damaged prior to use in a gallery or museum exhibition. It is not uncommon for a print that is marked with an HC to be printed on a different type of paper than a typical group of limited edition prints. An HC print may be printed onto a higher quality paper. Currier & Ives prints are an example of how the paper used affects authentication and value.

Dr. Lori's Expert Insights

During my years working in major American museums, I was always surprised at the strong interest in AP prints and the way many people, even curators, basically overlooked the equally important EA or HC prints. This was most common with the prints of some of art history's most important printmakers like Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, or Dali. AP prints, simply put, got more marketing attention in the world of art dealerships and art galleries than the less commonly known EA or HC prints. Why is that? EA is a more typical mark on prints used in Europe and outside of the United States. HC prints were more commonly retained by the artist, artist's family, artist's dealer, or the museum for its own collection or for the organizing curators. This may be one reason why HC prints are less commonly found on the market.

Got a print that you want to know more about? Tell me more about your print and I can help.

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