Different Kinds of Signatures

Dear Dr. Ledor (Kobi), I wished to thank you for the very thoughtful and clear discussion of the caveats that one must consider before purchasing art — especially over the Internet. When I was very young, I went to museums first as part of school trips, then as part of art appreciation courses in high school and college. Eventually going to museums became a part of my life. Nonetheless, until recently, it never occurred to me to buy lithographs from great artists. In light of my background and modest means, being a collector of anything other than original paintings or unknown artists seemed beyond my reach. However, I always have been intrigued by lithographs — especially those of Picasso. I was ready to make my first purchase of a Picasso lithograph until I visited your website. Then I was reminded of what I should have known based on my professional work, one must be careful of fraud before we take any decision of importance to us.

There are terms that I am just not certain that I understand correctly. For example, I read that some lithographs are “signed by artist,” “signed by artist in crayon or ink,” “signed by artist in pencil after printing” (Is it possible to sign it in pencil before the printing?), etc. There are several ways an artist can sign his print. One is on the paper upon which it has been printed. This is generally done in pencil or ink. An artist can also sign his name on the plate or stone. That of course cannot be done in pencil but is accomplished in the same way the print is created (e.g. with a lithographic crayon on the stone) and at the same time. Sincerely, Ron N.

1 thought on “Different Kinds of Signatures”

  1. Dear Ron, There are several ways an artist can sign his print. One is on the paper upon which it has been printed, generally in pencil or ink. An artist can also sign his name on the plate or stone. That of course cannot be done in pencil but is accomplished in the same way the print is created (e.g., with a lithographic crayon on the stone), and in the same setting in which the artist creates the print.

    I would perhaps be remiss at this point if I did not promote the virtues of unsigned Picassos a bit. Although by now about half the Picassos we own are hand-signed on the paper, of the first dozen I bought, none were (though one of them was estate-stamped “Picasso” and another eight were signed in the plates—yes, we have two complete sets of the Balzac prints). My mentors have always encouraged me to buy unsigned as well as signed Picassos, for the following reasons:

    As you may know, signing prints is a twentieth century phenomenon. Artists didn’t do it historically. So, for example, iif you were to buy a Rembrandt print, it would necessarily be unsigned.

    As you can imagine, Picasso had many better things to do than sign his prints, a task he must have found rather tedious. One advantage of sticking with unsigned prints is that you end up with twice as many, pound for pound. That is because in the case of the same print, a signed copy generally sells for twice the price of an unsigned one.

    As for those prints that Picasso signed in the plate or on the stone (like our Balzacs or Contrée), well, they tend to be priced like unsigned pieces, but they bear the signature of the artist every bit as much the product of his own hand as those prints that he signed on the paper. So, to my mind, they’re a double bargain! The signatures in the plate as well as the inked estate stamp are generally much darker than the typical pencil signatures, and, in the case of the signatures in the plate, such as the Balzacs and Contrée, tend to be more varied and more interesting.

    And, finally, it is worth noting that unsigned Picassos appreciate apace with signed ones, just as less accomplished Picassos appreciate apace with his masterpieces and his prints with his oils….

    By the way, for a more complete discussion, please see Chapter 12, Is It Signed?, of my manuscript, A Guide to Collecting Picasso’s Prints. -Kobi

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