Printmaking Terms for Limited Edition Prints.
Or how to read a print THE EASY WAY
Printmaking and limited edition prints can be quite confusing especially when admiring or choosing a print..exactly what do those numbers and letters in the mount mean?
Below is a brief but hopefully helpful guide to reading a print.
NUMBERING was a practice that started by default during the latter part of the nineteenth century. It started at the request of publishers from the printers and then the artists. Before that, some artists, for example, Toulouse-Lautrec and Théophile Steinlen, had started to number certain editions of their prints. These prints were numbered “No. 1,” “No. 2,” “No. 3,” etc., until the end of the edition. At the beginning of the twentieth century, prints were mostly published with only the number of the print but without indication of the total number of prints in the edition.
By around 1915, pressure increased from the admiring and buying public (and therefore publishers) to indicate not only the number of the print but also the size of the edition of the print. From that time onward, more and more editions of prints were numbered, as they are today, “1/100,”, 2/100,” 3/100,” etc., showing both the number of the print and the total number of prints in the edition.
The numbering sequence does not necessarily reflect the order of printing.
Of course, there will be some additional prints in excess of the numbered edition and not considered part of the edition. These might be trial proofs, printer’s proofs (PP), artist’s proofs (AP also known as épreuve d’artiste, or E.A.) and a bon à tirer (BAT), which in French means good to print.
In earlier times, when artists used the services of a specialist to pull their prints, they would just have a sample/demo print to give the publisher which would act as a guide to make sure that the result would be as close as possible to how the artist wanted it. This copy, often accompanied by notes on color or printing) was called “bon à tirer” and the three letters BAT were written in pencil in place of the numbering system.
Until the mid-to-late 1950s, these additional “annotated proofs” customarily added up to less than fifteen percent of the numbered edition, with artist’s proofs usually making up to ten percent.
In the late 1950s additional prints in excess of the Arabic numbered edition started to appear, such as hors commerce (H.C.) proofs and Roman-numbered editions. Other editions, on different paper or with changes of ink color, appeared. By the late 1960s artists and publishers added such refinements as editions A 1/100, B 1/100, C 1/100, etc. (see below), and editions for various countries or continents (where numbers would duplicate the other editions). These “refinements” are some of the ways artists, publishers, or both devised to multiply the actual total quantity of an edition of prints yet retain the illusion of a small limited edition by keeping the hand-inscribed numbers low.
Book publishers as early as the late 1800s published “deluxe editions” of illustrated books, with the illustrations printed a second time on another type of paper or in different color ink, or a combination of those two variations, in addition to the illustrations in the main part of the book. Limited-edition illustrated books produced from that time on were often numbered. Sometimes there were two separate suites that varied from the illustrations in the main book (e.g., George Clemenceau, Au pied du Sinai,1898, illustrated with II lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec).
TRIAL PROOF A working proof. Pulled before the edition, to see what the print looks like at a stage of development; this differs from the edition. There can be any number of trial proofs, but usually it is a small number and each one differs from the others.
BON À TIRER PROOF The “good to print” proof. If the artist is not printing his own edition, the bon à tirer proof is the final trial proof. There is usually only one of these proofs. This is the trial proof that the artist approves, telling the printer that this is the way he wants the edition to look; it is often accompanied by printing notes, such as paper, ink or inking process and it is the one print used as a reference for the printing of the whole edition.
PRINTER’S PROOF A complimentary copy of the print given to the publisher. There can be from one to several of these proofs, depending on how many craftsmen (printers) were involved in the production of the print.
ARTIST’S PROOFS Formerly, when an artist was commissioned to execute a print, he was provided with lodging and living expenses, a printing studio and workmen, supplies and paper. The artist was given a portion of the edition (to sell) as payment for his work. Today, while artists get paid for their editions, the tradition of the “artist’s proof” has remained. Artist’s proofs are usually annotated “Artist Proof,” “A.P.,” “Épreuve d’Artiste” or “E.A.”
HORS COMMERCE PROOF Proofs annotated “H.C.” are supposedly “not for sale.” These “proofs” started appearing on the market as part of editions printed in the late 1960s. Such proofs have no traditional function but are another method to extend the edition beyond the stated number of prints.
A SECOND or even THIRD EDITION is a later printing from the matrix after an edition of declared number has already been printed. It should be annotated as a second, or subsequent, edition.
A POSTHUMOUS EDITION is one printed from a matrix after the death of an artist.