Prints: a very broad price range…



A personal art collection often begins with some kind of ‘multiple’ work like a photograph or a print. These formats – which usually change hands at very affordable prices – represent a low-risk way of participating in the art market. However, the ‘prints and engravings’ field is extremely broad and it commands a wide range of prices that occasionally get swept along by fashion and speculative enthusiasm just like any other medium.

Although the prices of Contemporary prints rose as Contemporary art prices bubbled, their movement was much more moderate: Contemporary art gained 80% over the 2000-2010 decade while Contemporary prints posted an 18% increase over the same period. In fact the prints market is not just the “poor market” of original and unique works, it is also a dynamic market that can generate handsome profits or indeed substantial speculative increases.Take, for example, one of the market’s highest media-profile Contemporary artists, BANKSY, and one of his most emblematic works, Radar Rat, printed in a limited edition of 75 copies. The price of the Radar Rat print reached nearly $20,000 on 6 September 2008 at Phillips de Pury & Company (before the meltdown of prices) and then dropped to half that sum the following year. On 24 February 2009, Radar Rat fetched the equivalent of $8,950 at Bonham’s in London, a good deal for the buyer compared with the 2008 price and a formidable investment for the first buyer of this work at auction who paid less than £400 ($800) on 14 March 2005 at the same auctioneer.

The market for prints is nevertheless primarily an affordable market with 60% of the lots selling for less than $1,000 (55% for Contemporary prints) and only 11% fetching more than $5,000. Banksy fans can acquire one of his long edition prints (500 to 1000 copies) in a range of prices not exceeding $1,000 (edited by Pictures on Walls). However more than edition length, the notoriety of the subject can add substantial value to a print by a Contemporary art star: Banksy’s Colour Trolleys a print showing jungle hunters trying to capture empty supermarket trolleys, fetches around $4,000 in a limited edition of 750 copies. This is of course already a hefty price for a young artist, but it is only a 10th of what you would pay to acquire a unique work by the same artist.

Although Contemporary artists frequently produce prints (allowing a certain “democratisation” of the market), they only represent 7% of the total print market. The market’s core is in fact dominated by Modern artists (48.5%) and Post-War artists (28.3%). Not only are the artists in these segments some of art history’s most prolific, they are also the most expensive in the print medium: in 2010, six prints by Pablo PICASSO, Edvard MUNCH and Jasper JOHNS generated 7-figure results. The most expensive artist in the paintings segment is also the dearest in prints: A print of Pablo Picasso’s La Minotauromachie (1935) fetched £1.1m ($1.7m) on 16 September 2010 at Sotheby’s. Four months later, Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust fetched the highest price ever paid at auction for a work of art ($95 m). But Picasso fans should not despair: every month, prints, lithographs, engravings, gravures and aquatints by the artist sell for prices not exceeding $500!