Most people own at least one framed print of some kind, and many people own more than that. In the antiques world, finding the value of anything will always come back to the law of supply and demand. Too much supply can kill the value of even the most interesting items, unless the demand for them outpaces availability. With so many framed prints in the world, can any be valuable? The truth is that most aren’t, but there are absolutely desirable exceptions, and they exist in everyday homes all over the place.
Characteristics of a print that may indicate value
The best prints have to possess at least a few of the following attributes. The more they have, the better their chances are of being valuable. Age, fine condition, popular subject matter, documented artist’s reputation, original signature and/or other handwritten markings, along with quality printing and framing, all add to a print’s value. A print without an edition number, or where the edition is greater than 150, will almost never be valuable. Prints obtained at the mall, in fancy galleries in tourist destinations or on cruise ships will usually be worth pennies on the dollar on the secondary market, at least for a few decades after they were initially purchased.
Older prints are worth more money
While age alone does not dictate value, older prints tend to be more valuable than newer ones. Recently made prints rarely if ever command a price anywhere near what was originally paid. With so much supply, virtually perfect condition is essential for all but the oldest and rarest examples.
Many prints show the effects of moisture exposure, and that damage is simply not acceptable to collectors. Pictures that are truly gorgeous, heartwarming, humorous, risqué or historic will always outsell common subjects such as landscapes, seascapes, buildings, florals or religious themes.
A famous artist does not necessarily indicate high value
Prints by highly respected artists are good, but most works by the better artists were printed in large quantities and multiple editions, thus diminishing their value. Low-production prints by great artists can be very valuable. Original hand-signed, numbered or notated prints prove originality and therefore always help the value of a print, but don’t be fooled. An uninteresting hand-signed print can still be nearly worthless.
During the 70s through 90s, a number of extremely famous artists made millions (each!) by producing enormous volumes of prints late in their careers. Many of these prints were not actually done by the artist him- or herself, but rather by their authorized ateliers. The most noteworthy examples include Picasso, Erte, Dali, Miro and Warhol. Neiman, McKnight and Kincaid are examples of artists doing the same thing more recently. Some of those prints are worth money, but the vast majority are not worth nearly what people paid for them. Prints that fall into this category should be assessed by an expert before you write them off, but don’t expect miracles.
Print quality and a good frame make all the difference
Perhaps the two most important attributes in determining value are the quality of the print and the frame. Prints made using methods like steel engraving, wood cut, etching or silkscreen will usually be more valuable than lithographs and always be more valuable than offset printed examples. Do your own research or consult someone knowledgeable to determine how your print was made.
Finally, understand that the most valuable part of many prints is the frame. Ironically, most often the value of the frame alone is the same whether it contains a print or not.
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