Limited Edition Photography Buying Information

If you are new to buying limited edition photography, you probably have a few questions.

  • What is to know about signatures?
  • What are numbered photographs, an edition, and proofs?
  • What are archival materials?

This guide introduces each of these topics and explains various possibilities you may encounter when examining a range of artists. A summary of what to expect from the photography of A K Nicholas is at the end.

Is it Signed by the Artist?

Not all signatures are the same! Look for photography that bears the artist's signature on the artwork. A statement in the art listing will mention that the artwork is signed by the artist. This means the artist was personally involved in the creation and approved the photograph.

The signature can be located on the front, visible after framing, or the back (also called a verso signature.) This signature may be in the margin or over the image area, which may affect how you perceive the completed presentation.

Take note of the phrases signed by artist's estate (or family) these are not the same as being signed by the artist.

A signed certificate of authenticity may be signed by the artist or another person. A certificate of authenticity is a separate document and is not the same as a signed artwork. A signed certificate accompanying an unsigned artwork usually means the certificate was pre-signed and the artwork was simply licensed for production.

signed numbered
Hand signed and numbered by the artist

The artist's signature attests that what you are buying is their artistic vision and not part of a mass-marketed product.

How Many Photographs and Edition are there?

Each photograph is signed and numbered. A series of such photographs in a particular size, in their entirety, is one edition.

Since each edition is limited, they are numbered to indicate the photograph number and the size of the edition. For example, 1/10 (first of ten). It is preferable for photographs to be hand numbered by the artist. Other photographers may allow production without the artist being present and numbered by another person or mechanically numbered on the front, back, or an accompanying card or certificate. (A.K. does not do this.)

Some photographers produce the same image in multiple sizes. There is nothing unethical about this, but it complicates determining the total number of photographs, as each size is numbered as a separate edition. The total number of photographs across all editions determines the rarity of the image and in turn it's relative value. The fewer total photographs, the more desirable to collectors.

Many serious collectors steer clear of large editions, those with more than 150 total photographs. Large multiples can be a sign of low artist involvement or a shallow total body of work.

Take note of any proofs. It is a normal and accepted practice to make a small quantity of unnumbered proofs for the artist, printer, or other people close to the artist. These are not part of the initial offer to the public. Artists proofs are marked AP on the lower left. You might also see hors commerce (HC) and printer's proofs (PP).  All are part of the edition and should not be in significant quantity.

When an artist produces a limited edition, there is an implicit promise (and in many cases legal obligation) that all sizes and proofs must be disclosed in marketing materials and that no more editions will ever be made.

Is it Archival?

When it comes to contemporary photography, archival is a relative word. The consensus among most paper and ink manufacturers is that the colors must be stable for at least 100 years. Fortunately, most photographs use archival printing.

Archival printing includes pigmented ink (not dye based inks found in consumer printers.) Archival paper is acid free and does not contain any optical brighteners that are found in consumer-grade stock. This paper is thicker and more expensive to manufacture.

What Else to Know

Certificate of Authenticity

A certificate of authenticity accompanies most limited edition artwork whether it is a photograph, etching, or sculpture. Various states in the USA require this document to state how many photographs, including proofs, exist in the edition, and if any other editions of the same image have been made. Although it is preferable that the certificate be signed by the artist, some are signed by the printer, the seller, or some other person. The latter is often the case in mass-marketed editions, where the artist is not involved with the final production.

Open Editions

If you see the words open edition, you are not looking at a limited edition. An open edition is, in essence, unlimited.

Summary of A K Nicholas’ Photography

The limited edition photography of A.K. Nicholas is:

  • Signed on the front, lower right margin, by the artist
  • Hand numbered on the front, lower left margin, by the artist
  • Personally inspected by the artist
  • Archival, using pigmented ink on acid-free, 100% cotton, fine art paper (Breathing Color Pura Smooth)
  • Include a certificate of authenticity, signed by the artist
  • Typically issued in a single size per image
  • No excessive proofs (all are clearly stated)