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Collecting prints: what should you buy?

How do you decide what to collect? Some collectors will follow a specific artist or school of art. Others will look for subject matter or simply be led by decorative appeal. Those who collect seriously for investment purposes tend to play it safe, looking for the best, most typical works by artists, which are more likely to hold their value when times get tough.

One of the most dramatic success stories in recent years has been the Grosvenor School of Art, whose leading names experimented with the linocut process in the early 1930s. Influenced by Vorticism and Art Deco, these highly graphic designs used dynamic forms and patterns to create a sense of movement and focus. Look at the works of the two leading names in this school, Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power, and you can see how they harnessed graphic design and colour to convey the power of modernism with their images of the Underground, the Motor Age and even hunting. At the very top end, single prints have made close to £100,000.

Variables affecting price among Grosvenor School prints include colour combinations, the strength of the imprint, subject matter and – as with other prints – condition.

Works should preferably be signed, dated and numbered. Evidence that the print has been produced by a well-known printer or studio can also add to its allure.

It is sensible to ensure, when setting a budget for buying, that allowance is made for mounting and framing, if necessary, as well as insurance. If buying at auction, in particular, collectors may also have to add the Artist’s Resale Right levy to the hammer price and auctioneer’s charges.

Apart from the obvious attractions of a great subject, fine composition, attractive mix of colours and limited edition, what else should you look for when buying a print?

Condition can be very important. Try to avoid prints that have been folded, cropped beyond their margins, scratched, torn, scuffed and creased. Does the colour look faded? How white is the paper?

It’s also much safer to go for works that are signed, dated and numbered. Evidence that a well-known printer or studio has produced the print can also help.

More on this next time.

What you need to know when buying prints

Before you start buying prints though, there are one or two things you need to know to avoid mistakes.

There are all sorts of prints: linocuts, woodcuts, etchings, monotypes, mezzotints… the list goes on and on. What are they and what does it all mean? The answer, in brief, is technique. Some are older than others as, naturally, techniques have developed over the years, each helping the artist to create atmosphere, tone, clarity and character. Techniques can also determine how many impressions can be made because the printing plate or matrix will wear down to the point where rendering a clear print is no longer possible. This is important because rarity is a key factor in value. I tend to stick to editions limited to 200 or fewer.

My advice is to stick to signed and numbered limited editions, and to avoid laser prints.

Prints signed AP (Artist’s Proof) are additions to the limited edition, often to check for quality, but tend to be less desirable than numbered impressions.

Prints are not necessarily numbered in the order in which they are printed. It can simply be the order in which the artist picks them up to sign. Nonetheless some people like to collect low numbers, others will focus on strong clear impressions, while others prefer softer impressions with the paper showing through a little.

I’ll be sharing more thoughts about prints next time.

One way of acquiring a works by a master

I suspect that most people would like to have a statement piece of art on their wall; a painting by a well-known artist that becomes a talking point and the envy of their friends. For most, prices today mean that whether you like John Constable or Damien Hirst, that ambition is likely to remain just a dream.

However, you might be surprised at just how affordable prints by leading artists can be. And if it’s wallpower you’re after, opting for a limited edition print of an impressive size may well be the way to go. Prints are also a great way of dipping your toe in the market, because you can buy something really decent without getting your fingers burnt financially. David Hockney is an example of an artist whose prints, in general, make nowhere near the sums his major works can command, and so are accessible to a wide audience.

Some artists, like Victor Pasmore, who spent as much care on producing first class prints from one of the best print shops around, can be worth targeting more for these works than for original paintings.

I’ll be sharing more thoughts about prints in next week’s blog.

There’s still nothing like the live auction experience to get you hooked

You would have thought after all these years of antiques TV shows that just about everybody would be at ease with auctions, but we still get a few shy ones coming through the doors in Fernhurst. They’re clearly interested in the whole process or they wouldn’t be there. If you’re one of them, have no fear, we don’t bite and I’d be amazed if you couldn’t find anything to spark your interest.

My advice to anyone who hasn’t yet got to grips with auctions but would like to find out more is to come to a viewing before the sale. That way you can wander around and look at everything that’s on offer in a relaxed fashion. At viewings you will find lot numbers attached to each piece on display, and they correspond with the numbers in the catalogues, which are also around the saleroom so you can check out the description and estimate. Staff are on hand to answer any questions or help you get a better look at anything – you’ll find that’s true at any decent auction house.

And if you want to see a great bit of traditional auction drama, come along to the early part of one of our general auctions when the saleroom manager takes bids in the back viewing room rather than from the rostrum. You will find all the bidders standing together among the pieces being sold. There’s nothing quite like it to get you hooked.