Posted June 16, 2004

How to Identify Prints, A Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Print Processes from Woodcut to Inkjet by Bamber Gascoigne, first published in 1986, is the best reference I've ever found for identifying printmaking processes and different types of prints. I'm not the only one who thinks so, by the way. The book went out of print for a number of years and its price on the used book market ballooned to over $200. But now it's back in print, a second edition paperback version, every bit as good as the first, for only $34.95.

Here's why this book is well worth the modest investment: Let's say you buy a cheap old print at a garage sale, local auction, flea market or wherever. Or you're an antiques dealer, art dealer, bookseller or estate buyer, you make a buy, and you get some prints as part of the deal. Or you have a book with some interesting illustrations in it, but you're not sure what they are. If you're conscientious, you want know what you've got before you sell it, give it away, or hang it on your wall. So what do you do? You type keywords in on Google, and that gets you nowhere but confused. You call your friend who's an artist and that's a mistake. You try calling dealers but they blow you off, they want money, or you don't trust them. So you're stuck.

Then you read this review and you buy a copy of How to Identify Prints. You open the book and see that it shows magnified images, most in black and white, but a good number in color, of virtually every print process known to man, from days of yore right through to digital imaging. Then you go to Radio Shack and buy a pocket microscope (I believe the current version magnifies up to 60X, maybe more, and costs about ten bucks). You look at your print or book illustration under your new microscope, and then you look in How to Identify Prints for a matching magnified image, and that's about all there is to it.

You're a winner if what you thought was a reproduction turns out to be an original etching or lithograph. You're a winner if your book illustrations turn out to be original prints. You're a winner if you learn that your "autolithograph" is really an original lithograph, even though you thought the name meant it was a reproduction. You're a winner if your print turns out to be produced by some collectible print process like Baxter prints, collotypes, or cliche-verre, and so on and so forth.

You can also use the book to keep from getting nailed by art forgers. For example, it'll teach you the difference between a woodcut and a photocopy of a woodcut, and between an original lithograph and an offset lithograph.

How to Identify Prints has made (and saved) me money for years, and it'll do the same for you. It's a buy.

How to Identify Prints by Bamber Gascoigne, Thames & Hudson, New York, second edition, 2004, softbound, 208 pages, 8 3/4 by 10 inches, $34.95.

Available at bookstores or online.

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