The difference between original prints and reproductions


     Some people are either unaware of this distinction, or misunderstand it. If one learns the history of printing and printmaking, the difference between an original print and a reproduction is easy to understand. This has a bearing on the current and potential monetary value of the artwork you own. So if you're interested, take the time to read this brief background information.

     First of all, these two categories, original prints and reproductions, exclude original drawings, paintings, and photographs. Drawing, painting, and photography are all ways for artists to make original two-dimensional artworks. Printmaking is another way, though one that is usually less familiar to the average person. The pictures thus made are called original prints. Printmaking includes different processes: the major categories are relief printing, intaglio, lithography, and screen printing. If the picture you own was printed in one of these techniques from a surface the artists himself worked on, it is an original print.

      Reproduction is the term used for printed copies of original artworks. Confusion sometimes results, and is sometimes purposefully created by those marketing the artwork, due to the fact that original prints and reproductions are both printed. But a reproduction can be made of any flat artwork --- a painting, drawing, photograph, or original print --- by taking a photograph of it and using the negative to make printing plate(s).

     From the 1500s to the 1800s there would have been less confusion, because printing technology didn't allow for the printing of a facsimile of a non-printed image, especially a full-color image like a painting. After the late 1800s, the invention of the halftone screen allowed for very close facsimiles of photographs to be printed in ink. Nowadays we can see very clearly what the work of Michelangelo or Van Gogh looks like in full color without going halfway around the world, because the picture in the art book or the poster has been printed from a photograph of the original work.

     Original prints, being original artworks themselves, are worth a lot more than reproductions of original artworks. In fact, in terms of art collecting, reproductions are basically worthless. An original painting by Picasso would probably be worth millions; an original print would be worth thousands; a reproduction of one of his artworks in the form of a poster or in a book isn't worth any more than its sale price. Since they aren't originals, reproductions wouldn't be considered part of an art collection.

     If you're buying a reproduction of my oil painting, Shekhinah, chances are that it appeals to you for its message as well as its visual qualities, not because you were hoping it would be some kind of an investment. The print of Shekhinah that you may decide to purchase is a reproduction: it will not increase in value under normal circumstances. (This is an honest assessment, even though you never really know what tricks time and market forces can play. For example, comic books and movie posters from fifty or sixty years ago would have been considered fairly worthless when they were printed. Whether reproductions of my picture will ever enjoy such collectible value, I cannot say.)

     These reproductions have no edition numbers on them because I don't believe edition numbers are appropriate on reproductions. A long tradition in the printmaker's art is to number each print from an edition with a combination of numbers under the lower right corner of the image which look like a fraction. So if you see an original print with the edition number 23/100, it is the 23rd print pulled in a limited edition of 100 prints. It's also customary, though not universal, to destroy the plate or block after the printing of the limited edition, or the number of limited editions designated by the artist.

     I don't know when it started, but I've sometimes noticed pictures, in offices or wherever, which were clearly reproductions, but had edition numbers written at the bottom. (These numbers are handwritten, like those on an original print would be.) In my opinion this is usually an attempt to mislead the consumer by giving the print/reproduction an aura of authenticity and value, since many people would have a vague notion that such numbers are associated with original, collectible art. In any event, I make no representation that Shekhinah is part of a limited edition, or that the prints are original artworks. They are reproductions of a larger original which I hope will affect you aesthetically and effect reflection, an image which a thoughtful and sincere Christian might like to display in his or her home or church.