Specialists Speak: Collecting Prints

Left: "Troupe De Mlle. Eglantine" by Henri e Toulouse-Lautrec, lithograph, 1896, Christopher-Clark Fine Art; Right: "Jeune Femme" by Moise Kisling, 1942, edition 1995 210, Childs Gallery

Prints have increasingly become a choice place for new fine art collectors to begin their journey. Price points are lower, but the reward can be high; those who can’t afford to spend millions on original master paintings can access extraordinary prints by those very same masters.

In this installment of our “Specialists Speak” series, we asked experts at 7 of our partnering houses and galleries for tips on how to start and build a prints collection in today’s market.


Cynthia Klein

Vice President & Director, Prints & Multiples | Doyle New York

Cynthia Klein“Prints on paper and other types of editions are a great place to start for new collectors. They’re generally more affordable than unique works of art. While some Picasso prints have sold for over $1 million, which might be surprising to some people, many are sold in the $1,000-10,000 range, far less than what paintings by Picasso often fetch.”

“I think the market is strong for contemporary prints like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Picasso ceramics in the multiples category. For American prints, it’s Martin Lewis. Old Master prints, Dürer and Rembrandt. Among strong School of Paris artists would be Picasso, Chagall, and Miro.”

What are the most common types of condition issues for prints?
What we see most often for prints, aside from contemporary prints which can often be in pristine condition, is some type of light stain or matte stain, more so than issues that affect the image like tears, abrasions, and issues that have a much greater effect on the value.

What if I can’t see the print in person before buying?
Most of the prints & multiples in our sale are examined out of the frame, and we offer the full condition report online. If we don’t examine pieces out of the frame, we indicate it. We’re then happy to give people more information on them, and send additional images including close-ups of condition issues, overall front and back images of the sheets, and more.

What’s the standout misconception about collecting prints?
There are original prints and there are reproduction prints. Some people think prints are reproductions and an etching is an original work. There is a misconception over the term “prints.” There are original posters that can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then there are reproduction posters. Those are created in editions, original from a matrix or industry printed. Originals are those created by the artist with the intention that they’d be made in a print form.

Tim Malyk

Vice President and Head of Modern & Contemporary | Freeman’s

Tim Malyk“Collecting prints is a great opportunity to acquire works by blue chip artists, such as Lichtenstein, Warhol, and Picasso, at lower costs. It’s also an opportunity to purchase editions of their masterpieces or larger works created as prints or editions. There’s less risk in terms of price point and a big reward.”

“With any collection, start with the artists you like. From there, do general research online and speak to auction house specialists, print dealers, and galleries.”

What questions do print buyers often ask you?
One common question people ask is if the number of the edition matters. For some edition number 1 is more valuable than number 250. Although it maybe be a personal preference, it doesn’t make a difference. Other questions people ask are about their worth right now. I am asked if trial proofs and APs are more expensive, and they are because there are fewer of them and in some instances they can be more unique.

Are there any artists or periods that are particularly undervalued right now?
There will always be a group of artists that are undervalued because the market is cyclical. To pick one specific area is difficult. There are always buyers looking. Make sure to do the research and look for the artists that were undervalued within the circles of more well-known artists because they too had impact and influence.

How has print collecting changed over the last 10 years?
Collectors are paying more attention to editions and prints, recognizing them as a unique collecting category. They are realizing just how beautiful these works are and the value they hold. Printmaking is an art.

Mary Bartow

Head of Department, Prints | Sotheby’s

Mary Bartow“Buying in a prints auction is a great entry into collecting art. Most of the prints we sell are by very well-known artists and are a fraction of the cost of a painting. It’s easy to track their value and market; because a print is a multiple work of art, it usually has been offered on the international market in previous years.”

What makes prints different from, for example, posters?
A poster is generally a photo-mechanical reproduction of a work of art. An original print is much different from a poster, since it is taken from a matrix that the artist works on. This matrix is usually a piece of wood, a metal plate, a lithographic stone or a screen. This is then inked, and multiple images can be taken from it. I always say that prints are not unique works of art, but they are original works of art.

Are there any artists or periods that they think are particularly undervalued right now?
American regionalist printmakers, Old Master printmakers and late 19th century French color lithography are all undervalued in today’s market.

How has print collecting change over the last 10 years?
The trend in collecting prints has echoed what is happening in the other areas of Fine Arts: the market is trending toward Contemporary, and primarily Pop artists. We’re also seeing that iconic names and subjects are doing quite well, particularly Picasso.

Dorothée Ferté

Director, Department of Prints & Multiples | Cornette de Saint Cyr

Dorothee Ferte“Prints collectors must understand the complexity of the various types of materials used to make a print. Etchings, linocuts, aquatints, lithographs, drypoint, embossing, and heliogravure are some of the printmaking techniques that can be difficult to distinguish for a collector. Basic printmaking techniques are often a mystery to people.”

“They must also understand the importance between an original signature and a printed signature because the value of each may be considerably different.”

What questions do print buyers often ask you?
Clients often ask us about the meaning of “HC” (Hors Commerce) or “EA” (artist’s proof), and if the value of these proofs are equal to the value of a numbered print . These proofs, not originally intended for sale, are excluded from the numbering of an edition, but are otherwise exactly like the editioned prints in every other respect.

What types of prints are trending in the market now?
The Chinese Contemporary prints market is stabilizing following a few months of great expansion. Interest in great modern masters, Pop artists, and abstract masters still continues to rise year-on-year and remain interesting investments.

Todd Weyman

Vice President and Director of Prints & Drawings | Swann Galleries

Todd Weyman“New prints collectors should follow their instincts and start collecting what they find visually appealing rather than buying into any perceived trends. Also, they should find a few experienced collectors and trustworthy individuals in the market who might offer some advice early on. Don’t be afraid of be making a few mistakes.”

What questions do print buyers often ask you?
New collectors ask if something they’re considering buying will appreciate in value, which is not, in my opinion, the best way to size up an acquisition. First, try to figure out if you’re in love with the visual part of the work, then perhaps consider it in terms of an investment.

What types of prints are trending in the market now?
The contemporary prints market continues to build, and as an increasing number of new collectors enter that is typically where they head first. We also see collectors who might have started collecting contemporary looking back to artists who were among the most “contemporary,” experimental and cutting-edge of their day, such as Goya, Miro, Munch, Picasso, Piranesi and even Rembrandt. Collectors are seeing the modernity in these works and understanding that these older prints can fit into their collections as well.

Arnaud Oliveux

Head of Limited Editions | Artcurial

Arnaud Oliveaux“The prints market is an informed connoisseur’s market. Each print, even released in several copies, is unique. The technical aspect of prints is important. We spend a lot of time explaining the various techniques of printmaking, for example, the difference between a linocut and a screen-printing. Collectors also often wonder about the role of the artist in the production of the print.”

What types of prints are trending in the market now?
There is a real interest for the great names in modern and contemporary art, and that interest is rising. Prices are rising for artists like Warhol, Soulages, Miro, and Picasso. New segments of this market are also expanding, particularly in urban art: prints by Kaws, Banksy, or Invader obtain relevant prices. We can expect this trend to intensify in coming months.

Pop Art remains the most appreciated movement. Collectors are steering away from classic prints. The biggest artist engravers of the 20th century are taking center stage. Demand is growing for the works of [the above-mentioned] artists because engraving had a real importance in their work.

Answered in collaboration with Pierre Alain Weydert, Head of Prints & Engravings at Artcurial.

Sam Berkovitz

Owner | Concept Art Gallery

Sam Berkovitz“A good way to look at original prints is in the same way that you look at a casting of a sculpture. There are multiple originals versus a unique original. With a sculpture, the sculptor creates a bronze mold, and creates a series of 7-10 bronze sculptures. Similarly, a printmaker is creating either a series of silkscreens, or an etching plate, or lithographic stone, or some other medium, but it’s indirect.”

“A print should not just be the same image that’s taken from a painting and transferred into a different medium. It should really be created for the medium it’s in. It should be an artwork in its own right.”

What are some key considerations when looking at print condition?
Contact with acid-bearing mattes and backings do a tremendous amount of damage, and in that same group I’d include hinging. If fine prints aren’t properly hinged, matted, or framed, they can have a lot of damage caused by contact with acid-based materials that stain the artwork.

There is also an expectation that people buy a fine print and want it to lie bone flat. Sometimes prints will be laid down or mounted down, which is very detrimental, depending on how it’s done.

Is print collecting on the rise in today’s market?
There is clearly a place for original, multiple edition pieces in the market. I think there are more interesting prints being made today than ever before. There’s a great history of printmaking and it’s exciting to see how some of these newer artists are using it.

See both rare & accessible prints up for offer now on Invaluable.