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  • How to collect limited edition prints
  • Post author
    Paul Fraser
  • collectHowlimitedto

How to collect limited edition prints

No need to read this one if you're seriously considering snapping up Jean-Michael Basquiat's Dustheads, or Jack the Dripper's Number 19 at Christie's forthcoming contemporary art auction - both works are estimated to be worth a whopping $35m.

Aside from the very, very, very wealthy, the vast majority of us have been priced out of the fine art market.

Cyril Edward Power prints auction
Whence and Whither, signed and dated by Cyril Edward Power

If you happen to have a cool $35m gathering interest in your savings account, good for you!

But, if your income is more modest, you might consider buying into the "second tier" - a vast and potentially propitious market of limited edition prints, posters and photographs that could well increase in value over the coming years.


Print making is an ancient art form that can be traced back to 9th century China. By the 15th century, ancient Chinese woodcut techniques had arrived in Europe - where German artist Albert Durer was employing them with considerable skill, producing prints of startling detail and clarity.

Bonhams prints auction London
Spowers' The Giant Stride came from a limited run of 50

By the 20th century, artists had realised that print making enabled them to massively increase their output, and, as a consequence, price points came down and art became more and more accessible to the masses.

American artist Maxfield Parish used lithography to create multiples of his paintings for magazines. Had you been a subscriber to Ladies Home Journal in 1904, an unsigned, unnumbered, but nonetheless limited edition reproduction of Parish's Air Castles could be yours for a dime.

Diane Arbus photography auction
Diane Arbus’ Twins made a record breaking $602,500 earlier this month

As Bonhams' recent auction proved, the market for art prints is strong. Cyril Edward Power's dramatic linocut Whence and Whither led the sale, bringing £97,250 (149,021), while little-known Australian artist Ethel Spowers' circa 1932 print The Giant Stride sold for £85,250 (130,611).

What factors influenced these sale prices?

Today, prints are typically signed and numbered. Whence and Whither was signed, titled and numbered "16/50" by Power, while Spowers' The Giant Stride was signed, titled, dated and numbered  "2/50". Of course, the individual prints are aesthetically remarkable and demonstrate a great deal of artistic flair and technical skill, but had they not been signed and numbered they would have been worth a fraction of what was paid.

Naturally, the more limited the print run, the scarcer, and therefore more valuable, the print is likely to become.

The avant-garde interwar period, from which both Whence and Whither and The Giant Stride hail, is popular with art print collectors.

Print making was common among the young artists of the period, reflecting the mechanical and technological revolutions that were taking place at the time.

Such works boast bold lines, strong, though limited colours and eye-catching shapes. Claude Flight, Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson and Sybil Andrews are names to look out for.

how to collect prints
Some signed, limited edition posters blur the line between print and poster - we currently have this rare example in stock


Posters are generally considered less valuable than prints. However, music posters, in particular, often blur the line between print and poster. Many contemporary music posters (those created for Pearl Jam, Phish and Dave Matthews, for example), are produced in signed, numbered editions, just like a fine art print, and posters designed by artists such as Emek, Chuck Sperry and Jim Pollock often appear on eBay the day after their release for double or triple the price.

Another company to watch is Mondo: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which owns an archive of more than 38,000 posters. Generally, Mondo's limited edition movie posters are snapped up by collectors within hours of their release.

Photographic prints

Investing in photographic prints is another option. Photography is on the rise among collectors - a rare silver gelatine print by Diane Arbus, and, crucially, acquired from the artist, made a record breaking $602,500 earlier this month.

Although limited edition photographic prints are considered sought after by collectors, it is only those prints that were hand-developed, signed and dated by the photographer, which can be traced back to his or her darkroom, studio, camera and trigger-finger that are likely to seriously increase in value.

Scarcity, condition and identity of the photographer or artist all play a role in determining the value of these "second tier" investments. But, as passionate collectors are pushed toward the peripheries of the mainstream art market, I expect interest to grow and prices to increase.

Buy only the best you can afford, and, most importantly of all, what you'll enjoy "exhibiting" on your walls at home.

  • Post author
    Paul Fraser
  • collectHowlimitedto