Some years ago, a collector took his Scott Burton print to a framer, where it was destroyed in a fire. The framer’s insurance took care of the cost of the print, but the collector still wanted the image; fortunately for him, the artist, who self-publishes reproductions of his paintings as limited edition prints, had another print on hand from the edition to sell. However, the question arose, What should Burton charge for the replacement print? Full price? A discount for being an avid customer? A higher price because there are now fewer prints left in the edition?
There is no industry standard answer: Both Mill Pond Press and Greenwich Workshop print extras, known as “overages,” of their editions specifically as replacements, and they sell them at substantial discounts – generally, the cost of printing, plus shipping. (These publishers claim that extras are destroyed within a period of months, in order to insure the integrity of the limited edition number, and that they require some proof of print’s destruction or damage, usually having the entire print or the corner with the signature and number sent back to them before they send out a replacement.) The artists whose works they print have also signed these replacements, and the publisher will append the number in the edition that the piece is replacing.
The publishers of print editions produce extras additionally to make up for potential defective prints, such as those with drying spots or faulty inks. The speed of the printing presses, unlike prints that are hand-pulled, make it impossible to cull out errors during production. After all the prints are examined, the faulty ones are removed and destroyed. (It is a good idea for artists to actually watch or otherwise verify the destruction of extras and misprints, as an occasional publisher has put these up for sale. That has also happened with Scott Burton, who has adopted the practice of issuing certificates of authenticity for all the prints he approves.)
Other print publishers, and some individual artists, have taken an opposite approach, maintaining a no-replacement policy that requires collectors to purchase the same work at the same or even higher price, if works from the edition are still available. “These are original prints, one-of-a-kind, and can’t be replaced,” said Carl Hoffner, a printmaker in Fayetteville, New York, and Oyster Bay, New York painter Barbara Ernst Prey stated that if one of the offset prints in a limited edition is damaged or destroyed, even in transit, the edition simply loses that number. Randy Eggenberger, president of Wild Wings, a publisher of wildlife art prints, noted that the print publishing industry is slowing moving away from the practice of making replacements available. “People need to take some responsibility. There’s no other product in American that you can get a replacement at cost if you damage it.” He added that customers are advised to have their work insured.”
Prices for the remaining works in an edition, especially when it is a small edition, often go up, and the higher amounts reflect their increasing scarcity; a replacement print is likely to come at that latter point of an edition, making it more expensive. “We have a stepped approach to sales,” said Tim Rooney, curator at Tandem Press in Madison, Wisconsin whose edition sizes are typically 30 with an average per print price of $1,500. “We sell the first 10 at one price, then bump it up, then sell another 10 and bump it up again.” This being the art world, no policies are hard and fast. Rooney noted that Tandem Press has discounts of differing amounts for individual collectors, corporations, museums, art consultants and commercial art galleries. Even late in an edition, Rooney “might” make a replacement print available “at a collector’s discount, to cushion the blow.”
Individual artists are just as likely to make or change policies on the fly. “If I have a whole glut of them, I may offer a discount, up to 20 percent for long-time collectors,” said printmaker Tim Sheesley of Oneonta, New York. “If I only have one or two left, I’ll charge a higher price. It all depends on my mood and the relationship with the collector.” When the supply of prints has been exhausted, artists may also sell their Artist Proofs, which are usually more costly (“They’re my retirement plan,” Hoffner said).
Scott Burton’s decision on pricing was somewhere in the middle ground between a cost of printing and a higher than original price. With an edition size of 35 for a print reproduction of one of his paintings, the prices of works in the edition had increased since the collector had first purchased it, but Burton charged only the old price, a de facto discount, according to the artist’s business manager, Alan Smith.
Car dealers don’t give you another car if you total it after leaving the lot — that is why drivers have automobile insurance. Art collectors take out fine art insurance exists in the event that artwork is damaged or destroyed, but that tends to be for quite high-end objects, and most prints aren’t at the level of requiring policy coverage. Artists who sell their own prints face a dilemma when a buyer wants a replacement for a print that was torn after it fell off the wall (or whatever happened to it), provide a replacement for free, at a reduced cost or at full price. Artists want their buyers to stay their buyers, which might lead them as a good will gesture to offer a piece for less than market value, but they may also worry that a buyer claiming a print was damaged wants a second one at a bargain. They may also be fearful that other buyers will ask for “replacements” at a reduced price if word gets around. As with everything else in the art trade, there aren’t hard and fast rules, only the need for artists to decide on a policy and stick with it for everyone.
By Daniel Grant