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Author Topic: Thoughts on what "limited edition" mean  (Read 2787 times)
nemophoto
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« on: July 27, 2012, 07:21:46 AM »
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My best friend, also a pro photographer, and I were talking about shows and numbering prints/canvases for limited editions. The question/debate was: does a limited edition (let's say 100), comprise 100 prints of a specific image, regardless of size, or would it be something like 100 8x10's and 100 16x20's etc.?

I'm curious about other thoughts and which would be the correct in numbering, or if both are accepted practices. Thanks for your thoughts.

Nemo
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Edhopkins
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« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2012, 07:51:40 AM »
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Talked to a serious collector once. I got the sense that he wanted a guarantee that there were very, very few prints out there identical to the one he was buying. He was thinking in terms of 5 prints or something like that.

My guess is that for him a "limited" edition of 100 prints (or 100 prints/size) would be pretty much equivalent to an unlimited edition.  In other words, limiting your prints to an edition of 100 would not give it more value.

And to expand the discussion to more than just the size issue: Suppose you don't like the print that you have "limited" to 100, and decide to go back to the raw file and re-do the image and then reprint it. You can end up with a significantly different image.  Is this new one the "same" image as the one limited to 100 prints--because it is "from" the same raw file--or is it a new one because it has been developed in a different way?  Can you rework a print and then do another "limited" edition of 100 prints?  (The fact that you might do this or can do this would absolutely deter a serious collector from taking any claim about "limiting" an edition to a certain number as pretty much just talk.)

I don't know what the answer is in all of this. Collectors know that there is an data file back there on your computer (or its backup) that you can use to churn out a million prints and nothing you can say will take away that knowledge from the collector.

ed
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DeanChriss
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« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2012, 07:59:45 AM »
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There are some conservative definitions of "limited edition" that have some meaning. A great many, including some well known painters who sell "limited edition" prints of their work, use looser definitions that make the term virtually meaningless. Some definitions and my personal opinion are at http://www.dmcphoto.com/Articles/LimitedEditionPrints/index.html. [edit] I should also have mentioned that the term carries some legal obligations for record keeping and the like. Whatever "rule" is used you have to assure that two people never end up with prints bearing the same number. Lawsuits have resulted from such mix-ups, though they are rare.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2012, 08:15:51 AM by DeanChriss » Logged

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neile
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« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2012, 08:48:53 AM »
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We've talked about this topic before, but sadly I can't find the old thread. It had lots of good comments in it.

Personally I'm partial to Brooks Jensen's take on this. Here's what he says at http://brooksjensenarts.com/pigmentonpaper.htm:

Quote
Many photographers artificially limit the number of prints they will produce from a given negative, offer numbered editions, offer limited editions of a given size of print, destroy their negatives, and many other silly games whose objective is to convince you to buy their artwork and pay more for it. I don't. I won't. Either you like and want to buy my work, or you shouldn't. I make it available; I make it affordable; I then let the chips fall where they may. I have written about this at length in an article published in LensWork in this PDF file.

While it is true that photography is not limited to a finite number of prints from any given negative or digital file, I, however, am. Like all of us, I have a limited amount of both time and energy. In that sense, all artwork is limited simply because the art maker is. Such is life.

While I don't limit my prints, I do know that a clear and precise provenance is important to some people and may have historical importance long after I am gone. All of my individual prints now specify the date of their production, the source (negative or digital file), the precise number of copies I made that day, and which is the number of this print. Here is an example of that text. Folios are dated with the edition and printing information and numbered sequentially.

A typical First Edition, First Printing will be three to five copies, sometimes as few as two, on rare occasions as many as thirty.

Time marches, we change, our creative vision does, too. It is not uncommon for me to see new ways to interpret an old image. I am not opposed to improving an image when I see a need to. Each time I fuss with the digital file, usually to change it a bit to more closely match my creative vision, I call this a new "edition." It's a different interpretation of the raw data, so to speak — a new "performance" in Ansel Adams-speak. Sometimes that might be a little tonal adjustment, sometimes a contrast change, sometimes a dodge here or a burn there, sometimes I'll crop something or digitally remove a bothersome spot, occasionally I go all the way back to the negative and re-scan or back to the original in-camera file and start over. In one way or another, the new "edition" is a new artistic rendition of the image.

Contrary to the contemporary zeitgeist, therefore, the later editions are the ones I would generally consider the more mature interpretation of the image. There is a stampede these days toward "vintage prints," the rarity and value of which are supposed to be paramount. I respectfully disagree with this herd mentality. As an artist grows in maturity and sophistication, as their vision about an image ages with wisdom and insight, their later renditions are likely to be improvements. Probably. I tend to think my latest edition is the best one and my "vintage print" as simply that — an older one, but not necessarily a better one.

Having said that, additional editions may also be a result technology improvements.

The designation "Third Edition, Second Printing" on an individual print would mean that this is the third time I've worked this image from a creative (or technological) point of view and the second time I've printed a batch of prints from this third rendition. The print # is simply a count of how many prints I've made from that digital file on that day. Print number, therefore, indicate how many were actually produced. (I've always cringed at the "limited edition" designation "4/250" supposedly indicating that this is the fourth of 250 prints, when we all know that in 99.99% of such photographs there were not 250 actually made. Again, see my article What Size is the Edition?)

Since I don't place an arbitrary limit on my prints, for purposes of provenance the only way to tell how many prints I've made in total would be to add up the number of prints made from all editions and all printings — something that unfortunately could only be done by examining my printing records.

Folios are numbered somewhat differently. The colophon page of each folio includes information about the edition and printing date. For folios, however, the # indicates the number of that folio regardless of edition. Folio #57 would indicate that I've have produced 56 folios before this one, but these may be different editions or printings. Again, since I do not print in limited editions, the only way to tell how many folios have been created in total (for example, after #57) would be to examine my printing records.

I produce and sell my prints and folios on a first-come, first served basis. Orders are filled in Edition/# order. Obviously, editions are not reprinted except where identified as a later printing.

I also reserve the right to withdraw from sale any image or folio at any time.
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Neil Enns
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jsw_nz
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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2013, 02:57:37 AM »
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I am starting up a fine art limited edition printing service/shop - and have had a chance to consider this - my approach would be an agreement between printer & artist ---- that implicitly includes the concerns of the collector. (1) Prints are produced at one time - embossed with printer stamp directly onto media - (2) Artist agrees to sign and date final fine art prints (3) collector is assured that the edition is authenticated by these protocols. Ordinarily a limited edition' size would be 'limited' to the outlay of (a) printers materials / (b) investment by artist and/or his or her gallery - likely around 5 - 25. I have seen so many shenanigans regarding 'LE" - where in fact they are printed on demand. That's the way I will proceed. Interested in others thoughts - but my mind is made up on the matter - since I am an artist - and have a few collectors out there.
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Mike Guilbault
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« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2013, 06:51:55 AM »
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I've looked into this as well and came to the absolute conclusion that there is no standard and that both, offering LE and open editions, are correct.

I've taken the middle ground by offering most of my prints in open editions, but I do number them.  Then I have a few images that are special to me for some reason or another that I offer as LE, but the limit is 25, or 50.  It really depends what you do with the very first print.  If you offer it as LE, then you should stick to that.
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Mike Guilbault
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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2013, 07:21:53 AM »
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Here are a couple of essays on the topic:

Limited Editions by Mike Johnston

The Numbering Affair by Alain Briot
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JeanMichel
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2013, 10:35:43 AM »
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Hi,
IMHO, today, a "limited edition" label in photography has no more meaning than the label on the back of your shirt. A Daguerrotype is by nature a limited edition of one, so is a Polaroid, but how many virtually identical prints can I make from my file using my printer?. I, too, agree with Brook Jensen's method of identifying images and prints. I also think that people who have their images printed by someone else ought to identify and credit the print maker. We almost should credit the entire cast -- from camera, software and printer designers, to paper manufacturers... -- that allow us to produce our images, film makers do that. These days I include the relevant information about the image and print on the print margin in an area that will be likely over-matted and show the year the image was made and the year the print was made on my title and signature line.
Jean-Michel
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Mike Guilbault
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« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2013, 05:49:55 PM »
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That's where integrity comes in. If you offer LE prints, then you have to honour the edition and spell out exactly what the particular LE includes.

I like your idea of acknowledging the printer. I include the same kind of information you do on a card that's included with each print sale.
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Mike Guilbault
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jsw_nz
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« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2013, 01:56:06 AM »
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If you offer it as LE, then you should stick to that.
Mike - totally agree with that
- and do understand the open edition idea - your not hiding this either....

In my case - focusing on fine art reproduction and collectors concerns is a wee different - I see the value in creating them 'at one time' - so signature, numbering, dating and printer's stamping (chop) all become part of the equation. As far as my own work is concerned - I do not entertain the open edition idea. Just a personal preference as a painter / printmaker.

Jean-Micheal
Quote
a "limited edition" label in photography has no more meaning than the label on the back of your shirt
I suppose you could say that - especially in the digital age and the impossible abuse taking place in the industry - but I think on a personal level - you can commit to the principles of LE - which involves what I just mentioned - investment/outlay of time, materials to an underlying ethical principle.

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Mike Guilbault
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« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2013, 08:56:28 AM »
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Yes, I also state when a print is open edition - right below the title on the card that goes with it.  And of course it's numbered with a #1 rather than a #1/xx. I'm finding that most people don't really care that it's an open edition, but if they purchase one that is a LE and I tell them, then they're even happier. 

I don't think someone will make a photographic print purchase 'because' it's LE.  The image either touches them in some way or it doesn't.  LE is just a marketing tool to add value to a print and hopefully command a higher price.  I don't think it artificially adds value as some people indicate, because if someone is willing to pay, then the value must be there.  As stated, you have to stick to your commitment though. 

I really couldn't decide which track to take, LE or OE, so that is why I offer both.  Seems to be working.
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Mike Guilbault
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dmerger
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« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2013, 10:40:59 AM »
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Maybe a little off topic, but related, is the recent auction of photographs by the National Geographic Society.  One photo, Afghan Girl, sold for $178,900 (including buyer’s premium).  That’s a lot of money for a print, especially considering the terms of sale:

“Successful bidders are advised that reproduction rights are not transferred upon sale of any lot. National Geographic Society retains all copyright and reproduction rights it has in the property offered in this sale.”

http://www.christies.com/about/press-center/releases/pressrelease.aspx?pressreleaseid=6025

It appears that the buyer paid $178,900 for a print that wasn’t even a limited edition.  Perhaps there are other relevant terms of sale that weren’t publicized?   Or maybe the buyer paid, in part, to fund ImagineAsia's educational mission.  (Quote from the auction press release: “Proceeds from the sale of this image help fund ImagineAsia's educational mission.”)
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Dean Erger
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« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2013, 02:15:31 PM »
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We should note that editions have legal implications in several states.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edition

Part of reason I don't edition.  Another reason is that a few years ago I sold out an edition of 100 that would have made me a lot more money had it been open.

My mostly middle class buyers don't really care about editions.  And those few that ask are asking simply because they think they should, but they could actually care less.  Those folks are just as happy with a serial number or a signature with dedication scribbled on the back.

The decision to do editions is also a decision to pursue a market where the implications of editions genuinely matter.  That would be mostly collectors and investors, or people who need the (usually delusional) budget rationalization that they are making an investment.  The atmosphere in those elevated places is very thin.  Bottom line for me is that for my particular market, losing images to end-of-edition is a bad thing.

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nairb
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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2013, 02:41:52 PM »
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There's also the ongoing lawsuit with the release of new, very large, William Eggleston prints last Spring.

Here's some recent comments on the issue:

http://www.culturekiosque.com/art/artmrkt/weggle_jsobel_abehr743.html

http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/features/whats-in-a-number/
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Wayne Fox
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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2013, 08:41:46 PM »
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To me it's a question of integrity and is based on the image itself ... doesn't matter if you redo it in the future. To be honest and fair when "limiting" an edition you should make written and legal full disclosure when the image is offered as to what will be produced, and no changes after. Whether you are offering multiple sizes, each size limited to a number, or just a total printing regardless of size probably isn't as important as just doing what you say you are going to do before you sell the first print.

While certainly the concept is about artificially creating more value, to some limiting editions are effective, as they not only limit editions but also increase prices as the edition sells out.  Peter Lik and Rodney Lough come to mind.  I guess if you are actually "collected" and can do it, nothing wrong with it (as long as they do it fairly and honestly.  I have an issue with Peter Lik because he doesn't number his prints as they are sold, but you get to "pick" your number ...and he charges premiums for some numbers.  To me if it says 100/950 that not only means it's a limited edition of 950, but it's also the 100th print sold in the edition  Not so with Lik - you want #777 no problem just play about $30k extra.  It's usually one of the first prints made in his editions.)

For most however , (such as myself) limited editions seem to have little value.

However, that being said, I do offer much of my work as "limited" edition. The challenge is the concept of limited editions is more a part of the overall "art" market - photographers didn't invent it but have had to accept it as the way things are done in much of the art world. Many venues will not consider artists/photographers who do not offer limited editions, that's the only reason I have some of my work as limited.
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Ernst Dinkla
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« Reply #15 on: February 04, 2013, 02:26:52 AM »
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I still like the concept where the print is not limited but the price increases with every print run. Say an affordable first 5 or 10 for the ones that dare, the next 5 or 10 with a 25 or 50% price increase and etc etc. If the image is worth it everyone in that scheme is rewarded, the early buyer, the collector, the artist. The deal has to be transparent from the start to everyone. Prints numbered and signed. The artist should have the freedom to develop the image in time and smaller and larger prints possible in that arrangement, the sizes calculated in the price but the price increase more dominant. The ridiculous pricing at auctions gets a ceiling by this scheme and there is a chance for everyone to have that image on the wall for the price that it is worth. It will fix the actual value of the image better than normal unlimited prints or a limited edition run will.

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Paul Roark
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« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2013, 11:36:02 AM »
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I'm usually dealing with painters in the gallery I help manage in California.  Here, painters put a "Certificate of Authenticity" on their "giclee" prints.  What a bunch of nonsense. These are inkjet copies.  Just as with the "limited edition" rules, where the loopholes make a joke of them, the rules and terminology appear on their face to be designed from the outset to mislead potential buyers.  A sophisticated buyer of photography better have a clear understanding of exactly what s/he is buying if there is any representation of the print being a unique product.  That said, I will probably have an edition of 1 for sale in my upcoming show.  For that I'll be very clear as to what I mean -- the specific paper (Arches watercolor, not inkjet paper) and size (larger than a full sheet).

Paul
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bill t.
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« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2013, 11:39:02 AM »
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I notice John Paul Caponigro increases his price by 25% for each of an edition of 10, so that #1 is $2000, and #10 is $14,900.  Or, you can close out the edition at any time by buying a print for $15,000.  The term is "escalated pricing."  Being on the seller side of the equation I in some ways like that, but putting myself on the buyer side I wonder if that wouldn't be a little stressful or even discouraging for a dedicated collector.

But good grief!  Peter Lik and Thomas Kinkade and many others with "editions" of 950 or so?  Are buyers really that clueless?  Well apparently they are, at least in those kinds of numbers.  It's kind of like if you send out a few million emails begging people to accept $1,000,000, and 1 or 2 will bite.  I learn something every day.
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Wayne Fox
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« Reply #18 on: February 04, 2013, 02:18:31 PM »
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I still like the concept where the print is not limited but the price increases with every print run. Say an affordable first 5 or 10 for the ones that dare, the next 5 or 10 with a 25 or 50% price increase and etc etc. If the image is worth it everyone in that scheme is rewarded, the early buyer, the collector, the artist.

I've always like this approach as well, and in fact think the ideal scenario is editions are maybe like books.  You print an "edition" of "x" prints, all at the same time.  When you sell out you can print another edition with appropriate increase in price.  Perhaps a little hard to identify on the front of a print ...

Problem is most art shows want what is typical of artists and the reproductive "glicee" market Paul mentioned.  They just want to see a hard cap on the total prints.

But good grief!  Peter Lik and Thomas Kinkade and many others with "editions" of 950 or so?  Are buyers really that clueless?  Well apparently they are, at least in those kinds of numbers.  It's kind of like if you send out a few million emails begging people to accept $1,000,000, and 1 or 2 will bite.  I learn something every day.

As far as the total number in an edition, I guess I really don't have a problem with big editions for those whose work is popular.  Lik has sold out one print in as little as 36 hours, so it seems he's created a demand and market for what he does.  For someone creating a limit that has no chance of ever selling out  might be a little bit of a stretch, so I guess each artist can limit his edition sizes based on his own market, or the value they're trying to create. 

To me one of the assumptions a buyer makes when purchasing a "limited" edition print is that some day there is a good chance the edition will sell out, theoretically making their "investment" more valuable.  Maybe Lik's been able to reach that point even though his limit is 950.  Kinkade has certainly sold out of a lot of pieces, although as the owner of a couple of those older works, I can say with certainty this does little to enhance value. Of course, some of the issues with his operation later in his life also hurt the value. 
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bill t.
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« Reply #19 on: February 04, 2013, 09:55:38 PM »
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It's interesting to watch the listings of Lik pieces on online auction sites like ebay (search the completed listings) and artbrokerage.com.  Quite a few pieces up for resale, over a surprising range of prices for the same piece.  I have been watching some specific pieces for quite some time, and their doesn't seem to be much action even at the lowest prices.  Good retail marketing rules the day, and if possible locate your gallery in gambling casinos not far from the nearest wet bar, and by all means keep promises of appreciation on the verbal plane only, and out of earshot of witnesses.

As an aside, it's also fun to read the ebay item titles of landscape photographers offering a Lik "Card" along with their non-Lik pieces, to exploit the Lik name in title searches.  Ya gotta know the tricks.  Funny how nobody does that for me.
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