Art collectors often ask our gallery to define an artist proof, so today we are going to shed some light on the differences between different kinds of proofs and the printed edition.
WHAT IS A LIMITED EDITION?
When an artist prints a limited edition original print, such as a: lithograph, etching, aquatint, carborundum, screenprint, linocut, or woodcut, a set number of identical prints are made. This set number is the “Edition Size,” and these will generally be numbered sequentially and hand-signed by the artist. An edition size can vary from extremely small editions of 5 to large editions of 1,000 or more. Open editions have an unknown or unlimited quantity of prints.
Sometimes there are different editions printed on different kinds of paper. As an example there may be a regular edition on Arches paper with a limit of 100. These 100 prints are signed and numbered sequentially from 1/100 to 100/100. In addition to this edition on Arches paper, a smaller edition of 15 are printed on Japon paper and numbered sequentially in roman numerals from I/XV to XV/XV and signed by the artist. This brings our total edition, to 115 prints + any additional proofs that may exist.
SO WHAT IS A PROOF?
A proof is usually an identical print to the regular edition, that is printed at the same time – but is not part of the numbered sequence. This is known as a “Proof Aside from the Edition,” and these may or may not be hand-signed by the artist. In general with any edition printed there can be anywhere from 5-50 extra proofs aside from the edition.
Often these extra proofs are retained for the artist, otherwise known as an “Artist Proof”. An artist proof can be annotated “A.P.” for Artist Proof, or “E.A.” in French “Epreuve d’artiste”. Sometimes artists can additionally dedicate and gift a proof to a friend, collaborator, dealer, printer, or even family member.
A “Printer’s Proof” designated as “P.P.” is much the same, an extra proof made aside of the numbered edition retained by the printer or atelier. The “P.P.” can also sometimes stand for “Publisher’s Proof”. The printer’s proof is usually for approval by the master printer to ensure the quality of the printing, and can sometimes include notes and annotations about the printing process. The “BAT” or “Bon à Tirer” is a kind of printer’s proof, normally use as a control example against which the other impressions are compared. Bon à Tirer is French for “Good to Print” and is also kept by the Printer or Atelier studio.
Another kind of proof is the “Trial Proof” annotated “T.P.” The trial proof is essentially a test proof, often to test colors or the final look of the composition. It is sometimes also referred to as a “working proof” by which the final composition of an edition has not yet been realized. Trial proofs are often thought of as unique prints as they are a one-of-a-kind version of the composition. Art historians, curators, and collectors view working proofs as especially desirable because of their rarity, and the insight they may give into the progress of the work.
The last form of a “Proof” is the “H.C.” which stands for the French term “Hors Commerce” or “Not for Sale”. These are exactly as they sound, identical proofs to the regular edition that are not intended to be sold. Prints designated H.C. are often given to the project collaborators as a form of appreciation or partial payment.
“Tirage”, the French term meaning “output,” is the total number of prints printed for an edition, including any proofs, APs, PPs, HC, and TPs. It is important to note that not every limited edition includes all of these, and the complete number of prints within a tirage are usually described in the artist’sCatalogue Raisonné. Some artists and editions are catalogued very well and include full descriptions of the tirage, while others may have basic information only about the numbered edition.