How to Build a Collection: Start with Prints & Photography

By: Yvonne Monestier

Yvonne Monestier discusses the evolving interest in prints & photography

Lot 14 – Beth Van Hoesen, SALLY, 1979
Colour etching and aquatint; signed, titled, dated 1979 and numbered 9/100 in pencil to margin. Plate 11.5 ins x 13.7 ins; 29.2 cms x 34.7 cms

Building an art collection is an exciting process, though sometimes the hardest and most daunting aspect can be figuring out where to start. We’re sharing a few tips and observations to keep in mind and hopefully assist you with your decision-making process.

Art collections (big and small) can be composed of different styles, mediums and genres. It often takes years to develop and tailor a collection regardless of its focus and budget.

The prints and photography market is a great place to start experimenting and developing your personal style. Our clients are increasingly intrigued by this medium and the range of possibilities it offers, particularly if wall space is an issue. It can often be more forgiving on the wallet, as well as a great opportunity to own work by a highly acclaimed artist whom you admire.

The evolution of collecting tastes

Prints and photography are still viewed in some quarters as a kind of stepping stone towards gaining access to the ‘art world’ and collecting the more traditional types of mediums. However, we are finding that tastes and collecting patterns are evolving in such a way that the prints and photography market is finally getting the attention it deserves. New collectors in particular are doing their research and finding that limited edition prints are a worthy investment.

A few things to know

Limited Edition Prints

Limited edition prints are distinct works often made with, but not limited to, steel-plated copper-plates. The image is then transferred to paper using ink, repeated in a quantity determined by the artist for a specific edition. The edition size is typically restricted to a one-time print run that is rarely ever increased. Limited editions are often numbered and signed by the artist themselves, making them original works and adding to their overall value over time. Assuming that the edition size is set at a manageable number (typically under 200), the artist is involved in the production and approval of each individual work. In order to restrict the edition size, the printer or the artist will often destroy the plates or photographic negatives. The odd time that a limited edition is extended past its first edition, the subsequent editions will be less valuable as they are farther from the original intent of the work by the artist or artist studio.

Lot 43 – Lucian Freud, GIRL WITH FUZZY HAIR, 2004 [FIGURA, 63] Etching on Sommerset White paper; signed with initials “L.F” and numbered 17/46 in pencil to margin. The total edition includes 12 artist’s proofs. Printed by Studio Prints. Published by Acquavella LLC, New York.

There’s a whole art to printmaking and, in my opinion, it is not any less special than a painter’s brush touching the canvas or a sculptor’s hand shaping the artwork. One of the characteristics I admire most about printmaking is the relationship between the artist and the printing studio. Printers need to be highly skilled and discerning technicians that bring the artist’s vision to life through their own artistic innovation. Some studios are so well-regarded by artists and collectors alike that they use a blindstamp (a stamped impression without colour, foil or other decoration) to denote where a particular edition was printed, which can also impact its overall value.

Knowing the Terms

Apart from the edition size listed, you might also see a reference marked “AP” (artist’s proof) or “PP” (printer’s proof). These are often colour proofs or trial proofs that are used by the artist or printer to test different elements of the work. APs and PPs can prove to be more desirable and valuable if they vary in some way from the rest of the edition as they provide insight into the creative process. An AP or PP on the market is rare as they typically comprise less than 10% of the edition size.

The Importance of Condition

Condition is another valuable attribute to keep in mind when you’re considering adding to your collection. All works on paper are fragile living and breathing things and should be handled with great care. Ideally, prints and photography should be surrounded by acid free materials when handled and should be suspended with museum corner mounts when framed. Investing in proper framing and handling of the work is just as important as the overall purchase itself and will most definitely impact long-term value.

In summary…

The subject of printmaking, its history, and paper technology could fill many volumes, but allow me to conclude with a final recommendation: take advantage of the resources and expertise we offer. Let us help you start or continue your search and get an unbiased expert opinion. Waddington’s specialists are internationally regarded for our knowledge, including the vast arena of prints and photography.

We welcome you to explore the online gallery for our final Prints and Photography auction of 2020, and invite you to make an appointment to view works in person or via a video call. We’re always happy to take a work out of its frame for you and give you a closer look.

We look forward to sharing our passion for prints and photography with you!


This auction is offered online from November 14 – 19.

Previews are available by appointment only. All health and safety protocols are observed.

Contact us to find out more about Prints and Photography at Waddington’s. We also invite you to browse our upcoming auctions.

New to Waddington’s? Please register to bid.

About the Author

Yvonne Monestier joined Waddington’s in November 2019 as the Director of Fine Art and Strategic Partnerships. Previously, Monestier served as Curator of Public Art at the City of Mississauga, as well as provided curatorial and consulting services for private and public entities in New York City and Toronto.

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