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What can we learn from the signature of an original print ?

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

TP, AE, HC… decrypting the mentions under an original print...

As we know by now, prints are made by pressing an inked carved block on a sheet of paper.

What is an original print?

Often you will see the ‘original print’ mention about a print. An original print is never a 'digital' print, which basically is a copy/reproduction. This mention however, has no fixed definition. However, it is generally considered, following the example of the German expressionists, that an original print is a print entirely made by an artist (from the drawing to the printing including the carving).

Prints are usually printed several times from the block. They are considered as 'multiples' as opposed to 'copies': each print is an original since it differs slightly from the others of the edition. The very slight variations are due to the inking and printing process...

Under the print, a lot of information: numbers...

Under the print, written with a pencil, there are three spaces with many informations, usually in the following order:

  • on the left, informations about the print and the edition,

  • in the middle, the title of the print,

  • on the right, the signature of the artist (and eventually the year the print was made).

Editioning a print

The information on the left is often contains technical information that is not always easy to decipher:

  • A (usually Roman) numeral indicating the number of the edition. For example, 'II' means ‘second edition’. Each edition is different from the other either by the ink or the paper used…

  • Figures indicating the number of the print within the edition. For example, 1/10 means print n°1 in an edition of 10.

Consequently, II 1/10 means ‘first print of the second edition of ten prints’.

Under the print, a lot of information: letters...
Three editions of the same print and the mentions under the different editions

Under the print on the left, are sometimes some letters also:

  • TP Test print [EE : Épreuve d’essai in French]: indicates a print made before the final edition so as to test the carving and evaluate if it needs refining or not…

  • AE: Artist edition [EA: Épreuve d'artiste in French]; these are the prints kept by the artist (not more than 10% of the edition); these can be sent to some competitions or eventually sold.

  • HC : Hors Commerce [which means not for sale in French]. These prints are kept by the artist or reserved for the artisan carving the block and the printer of the edition in the case when the artist only executes the design. Sometimes, prints used for commercial purpose are labelled HC too.

What is a varied edition?

There are sometimes varied or variable editions of a print which are labelled VE [EV in French]. This mention indicates that the prints within the edition have significant variations one from the other. Usually the artist prefers the prints from the edition to look alike; in that case the artist enjoys the diversity introduced in the printing process). Here is an example of a varied edition of 14:

A variable edition print


A last word to conclude, bear in mind, when you buy a print, that you should never hesitate to ask to see all the available prints of the edition so as to choose the one you prefer...


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