Artist’s Signatures – How Do They Change the Value of Art?

By Melanie Annette Smith
Signed Prints, The value of signed artSigned in pencil, signed in the plate, what does all of this mean? The way a  print is signed and it’s impact on the value of the art causes a great deal of  confusion. You will see prints that are unsigned, signed in the plate, stamped  signature, estate signed and signed with a blindstamp. There are no hard and  fast rules about how an artist should sign their graphic art. It is more  important to know what the normal procedure was for the time period and what the  normal practice was for that particular artist.

Centuries ago, most artists never considered signing their art. Numbers of  pieces are unsigned, but that does not mean that the artist is unknown or that  it was not done or approved by him or that it has no value. Rembrandt,  considered one of the greatest etchers did not sign a number of his etchings.  Most of the modern masters, Picasso, Chagall, Miro, did not sign certain  editions. This is when it is important to work with a knowledgeable dealer since  unscrupulous people have forged pencil signatures on authentic art in order to  command a higher price.

Signed in the plate means that the artist has signed their name in the matrix  (wood, metal, stone, etc) so that it is printed within the art. This is the way  that an artist would sign their work up until the 19th Century and many of the  earlier artists would not have done that much if it had not be decreed by guild  law. Generally speaking, because in art there are always exceptions, a plate  signed work of art is more desirable than an unsigned piece, but is less  desirable than one signed in pencil. Since artist from the 14th to late 19th  Century did not sign their art in pencil, the lack of a pencil signature has no  impact on the value.
Signed in pencil is usually the type of signature that  collectors prefer.

It has become a tradition for the artist to sign their name in the lower  margin under the image. They may also include the edition number, title and  date. We can thank James McNeil Whistler for helping to introduce and promote  the hand written signature at the end of the 19th century. The hand signed  signature signified the integrity of the print, that it is original and  distinctive from a reproduction. Whistler charged twice as much for his hand  signed pieces than he did his other pieces from the same edition, even though  there was no difference in the quality of the art. Seymour Haden would sign his  name to any of his earlier unsigned etchings for a guinea. Picasso sold 15000  signatures for the Vollard Suite.

Unfortunately, the hand signed signature no longer has this same meaning  since many artists sign and number their offset lithographic or giclee  reproductive prints. Nor is this a new phenomenon, Kathe Kollwitz signed  photolithographic reproductions of one of her aquatint series. Still, the  implied message has remained and pieces that are hand signed generally are more  valuable than ones that are not. What makes all of this very confusing is that  it is possible to have a fake signature on an authentic work of art and an  authentic signature on a reproductive work of art.

Sometimes, instead of hand signing the art or signing in the plate, an artist  will use a stamp of their signature and apply it to the art, usually in the  lower margin where you would normally find the hand signature. A stamped  signature will sometimes be confused for a hand signed signature.

Heirs and estates have been creating posthumous editions or reproductive  editions that bears a special signature. They sign the art to give the  impression that it would have been authorized by the artist if they had not  died. These signatures could be hand signed, stamped signatures or blindstamps  by the heirs, museums or any authorized organization. The value of these is  usually much lower than lifetime impressions. But of course, there are always  exceptions!

Melanie Smith is one of the owners of Seaside Art Gallery which has been  established since 1961. She is an accredited member of the International Society  of Appraisers with a specialty in fine art and animation art.

She has hosted and organized numerous art shows and has been a judge for art  shows in eastern North Carolina. She also developed and presented the webinar,  “Prints, Original, Fakes or Reproductions” for the International Society of  Appraisers.

Seaside Art Gallery specializes in original works of art. You can visit them  in Nags Head, NC or on their website at

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