Art Collector Warning: Print Signature Forgery Problems

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Update posted March 29, 2008: A serious Picasso linocut problem exists. In the early 1960s, Editions Cercle d'Art published a book titled Picasso Linoleum Cuts (the French edition was titled Picasso Linogravures) with 45 REPRODUCTIONS OF PICASSO LINOCUTS, NOT ORIGINAL LINOCUTS. To repeat-- these are not original linocuts; they are small-format reproductions of the originals. They measure, including borders, approximately 12 1/4 x 15 1/4 inches each. The originals are much larger than these reproductions. Additionally, these reproductions WERE NOT PUBLISHED AS SIGNED BY PICASSO, though many that you see for sale today bear signatures purported to be those of Picasso. Picasso rarely, if ever, signed these reproductions. Beware if you are offered one for sale.

Update posted June 18, 2005: Beware of fake signatures on Picasso, Chagall, Miro, or Matisse heliogravure prints. Heliogravures are photographic reproductions of works of art regardless of who the artists are or how famous they are; they are NOT original prints. The overwhelming majority of heliogravures you see for sale have been cut out of books and magazines, or have been removed from portfolios and had fake signatures added. Once again, heliogravures are NOT original works of art, they are NOT original lithographs; they are reproduction illustrations and they were RARELY hand-signed by the artists whose art they reproduce.

Large numbers of prints and lithographs, originally published unsigned in art books, periodicals, and portfolios, are offered for sale with fake or questionable signatures, particularly at online auction sites like eBay. Thousands of these problem prints are for sale at any given time, mainly at online auctions, but also at fixed-price "gallery" websites and bricks-and-mortar establishments.

The overwhelming majority of these prints are by famous artists like Picasso, Chagall, Miro, Matisse, and Dali. They have been cut out or removed from publications like books, portfolios or magazines, hand-signed by people other than the artists, and often handsomely framed. To make matters worse, many are accompanied by official looking certificates of authenticity (usually abbreviated "COA" at online auctions) that aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Unscrupulous sellers know that a signed print with a COA can be sold for a much higher price than the same print unsigned and with no COA.

Original prints by famous artists have been included in books, periodicals and portfolios for well over a century. Countless hundreds of thousands of these prints have been and continue to be produced. Books, periodicals, and portfolios with their prints intact sell in a fairly wide price range. Those containing only one or two original prints by famous artists can sell for as little as $100. Those containing ten or more prints can sell for hundreds or even several thousand dollars.

The following guidelines will help protect you from buying excised prints with problem signatures:

* The most faked signatures: Picasso, Chagall, Miro, Dali, and Matisse.

* The most common sources of excised prints: Derriere Le Miroir (portfolio), Verve (periodical), XX Siecle (periodical), and books called catalogues raisonne that list and show the complete prints of famous artists, especially those for Chagall and Miro.

* Always find out from the seller whether a signed print was originally published independently as a limited edition OR as part of a book, catalogue, periodical, or portfolio.

* According to most knowledgeable dealers, famous artists like those mentioned above rarely signed prints that were removed from books, periodicals, or portfolios.

* In order for a signature to be genuine, a seller should prove, with documentation, exactly when, where, and for what reason the artist signed the print.

* Vague explanations like "the print came from a major estate," or "from a well-known collector," or "was purchased in a bulk lot from the publisher" or came from "a Beverly Hills (or other impressive location) gallery" are not adequate proof that a signature is genuine.

* Excised prints by famous artists are usually not very large (about the size of coffee table books) and range in size from 10 by 12 inches to 12 by 15 inches. Ones removed from art exhibit catalogues may be smaller.

* Double-page prints, particularly those removed from Derriere Le Miroir portfolios, have visible creases or folds down their centers and are about twice as wide as the dimensions noted above. Other multiple-page prints have as many as three of four creases.

* Excised prints and lithographs often have no margins. The great majority of legitimate signed limited edition prints have margins (that's where the artists sign, date, title, and number them).

* Signatures on excised prints and lithographs are usually in the compositions themselves (because they have no margins).

* Some prints are posthumous impressions, or ones printed after the artist is dead. A posthumous impression hand-signed by the artist would be extremely valuable and proof of life after death.

* Some prints are done by other artists "after" the original artists. In other words, another artist copies a print by a famous artist. Copies or reproductions of art by famous artists have only decorative value and are almost never signed by those original artists.

* Many exhibition posters for museum or gallery shows of art by famous artists also have signatures that may not be authentic.

* A small percentage of excised prints are painted or colored by hand as well as signed by unscrupulous sellers.

* If you have any questions or would like to learn more about collecting original prints, visit the International Fine Print Dealers Association website.

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