Limited Editions : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Selling limited editions of prints seems to attrack more buyers. I have seen editions from 20 to 100 and higher. Some increase their prices quite dramatically as an edition nears its end. What are the common accepted practices of limited editions? What are the pros and cons? Does the photographer print an edition all at the same time? I would think that over time, more expressive refinements would present themselves so that the prints at the end of the edition would be the most expressive. Can an edition be extended? Why raise the price so dramatically at the end? Any links or references would be appreciated. THANKS!

-- Rob Pietri (, June 05, 2002



You hit it right on the head...

-- Chad Jarvis (, June 05, 2002.

I meant to say:

"Selling limited editions of prints seems to attrack more buyers."

You hit it right on the head.

-- Chad Jarvis (, June 05, 2002.

I thought that the complete edition of prints was made and then the negative was destroyed. i.e. limited means limited. Extending a limited edition after it has started to sell is dishonest.

-- John D. Haughton (, June 05, 2002.

Rob, you may be interested in this article:


-- Bob (, June 05, 2002.

The tradition comes from the printing industry (woodcuts, engravings etc). Plates have a limited lifetime i.e., you could make a certain number of prints and with each print, the plate would wear away a little. Eventually, the plate would wear away enough to 'retire' it, which was done by scoring across the face of the plate to destroy it.

In photography, there is no such wear and tear of the negative. However, many printers consider photography to be about the making of prints and therefore part of this tradition. Moreover, some famous photographers publish limited editions as a way of forcing themselves to keep doing new work. Others consider the concept as hype. In my opinion, this is one of those thorny questions that each individual has to decide for herself/himself - , IMO, there are decent arguments on both sides. Yes, the concept of limited appears to be followed sometimes more in the breach than the observance. For example, a printing on a different size is often considered a separate edition. Again, grey areas... It is also questionable whether limited editions are necessarily good ways of making money - as Arnold Newman said, he and Ansel Adams would have made much less money if they had limited editions of 'Moonrise' and 'Stravinsky'. But this might be more true for truly famous people....

Note that many collectors prefer earlier prints (with engravings etc.) because the plate has not worn away as much as with later prints. However, in photography, prints towards the end are presumably more expensive because of rarity i.e., there are less and less on the open market.

Cheers, DJ

-- N Dhananjay (, June 05, 2002.

An alternative idea has been suggested by some. While the negative is not used up the way a plate or block might be in traditional printing, a photographer's interpretation of how a given image ought to be printed may change over time. That was certainly the case for Ansel Adams. Additionally, some collectors prize "vintage" prints -- those made close to the time the negative was made -- as reflecting the original concept of the photographer.

To deal with this, some people have suggested numbering the prints but not putting a limit on the edition. The photographer can include the negative date and the date printed as well. This does nothing for the scarcity factor in pricing, but may be of some scholarly value.

-- Jerry Flynn (, June 05, 2002.

See David Vestal's comments on the subject in "Photo Techniques" magazine.

-- Mark Sampson (, June 05, 2002.

This is an echo of Mark and Bob; both the Lenswork (Brooks Jensen I believe) and the David Vestal articles are excellent on the topic.

-- Katharine Thayer (, June 05, 2002.

Great question, Rob.

It is a question that i have always asked myself. I have chosen to for limited edition prints for myself , because i don't like the idea that i could actually print an " infinite" number of images from the same negative and still call it Art. I don't see limited edition a markting tool, i see it as a way to distinguish Art from mass produced work.

Mine is a personal motivation, i don't think that should be a rule. What i don't agree with is the notion of Vintage prints.

If i remember well these are the prints produced 5 years from the develop-ing of the negative. They usually are the worst prints because the printer has not had a chance to get acquanted with the negative, the late ones are the best ones because the sensitivity and skill of the artist have grown....

I think the vintage thing should disappear altoghether for photography.

-- domenico (, June 06, 2002.

Domenico, Iím not trying to say your wrong to limit your editions. But it does sound a lot like the argument painters and other artists used to make to say photography wasnít art, because it could be reproduced at all. For me itís quality of the work not the quantity that makes me think of it as art.

-- Ed Candland (, June 08, 2002.

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