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Limited series

The convention of numbering or limiting an edition is relatively recent. At the end of the 19th century artists started to indicate the number of prints in a series or edition, which developed into the concept of the limited series or limited run.

Due to changes in taste and new artistic currents such as the appearance and development of photography, the reproduced print disappeared and was replaced with the original artist’s print. This development became stronger in the 20th century, and the increased value of the original print created the necessity to limit series to specific quantities and to control the prints in each. These would be signed by the author and thus acquired a new feature of value – the artist’s signature. The first artists to do so in France and England were Whistler, Seymour Haden, Meryon and Toulouse-Lautrec amongst others.

It was established that the limitation of each series would be indicated on each print with the corresponding numbering and once a series had been finalised, the printing plate would be marked with a sign such as a large cross across its whole surface or more discrete lines in one of its corners. Good examples of the latter are the cancelled plates of La Tauromaquia by Pepe Illo, entrusted by Picasso to the Picasso Museum of Barcelona, or the plates cancelled by Manet, which show two holes on the top and bottom sides of the copper plate. Thus, any printing done with these plates after their cancellation will show these marks on the print. The latter is common practice after an original series has been finished and a plate cancelled: a proof is printed to leave evidence of cancellation. In exceptional cases post-series prints may be produced which carry these cancellation marks and are not signed by the artist.

The numbering of each limited series is indicated with a fraction and written with pencil in the bottom left-hand corner of the print. The numerator indicates the ranking of the print in the complete series and the denominator the total amount of prints in an edition. For example, 5/25 indicates the 5th print in a series of 25.


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