MAU Art & Design Glossary

Signatures and Editions


Signatures and Editions

By signing a completed work, the artist ensures the originality of his or her print works. “Edition” refers to the limited number of copies of the completed work (determined by the artist), and is indicated by the edition number written in the margin. The nomenclature is “signed and numbered.”

Until the 19th century, there was no custom of signing and writing the edition on print work. However, at the end of the 19th century, artists in Europe began signing prints as proof that the actual artist created them. This helped prevent printmakers from printing and selling extra copies. Eventually, the practice of signing prints became increasingly common and made its way to Japan in the 1920s. At the Third International Congress of Plastic Arts, held in Vienna in 1960, members declared that “serialized edition numbers must be included with the signature for a work to be recognized as an original print.” Ever since, edition numbers have been included along with signatures. Observers say that the current signed-and-numbered format was established through the process of commercial print distribution that occurred after 1960.
The signature and edition is typically written in pencil in the margin (marge) underneath the image, with the signature on the right and the edition on the left. Signatures should match in font and type. Editions follow the numerator/denominator format. The total number of prints in the limited edition goes in the denominator, and the number of each print in the edition goes in the numerator. The individual numbers in the numerator do not need to adhere to the order in which the work was actually printed, but the conditions and quality of all the prints must be identical. Not included in the limited number of prints are prints called Artist’s Proofs (A. P.) and State Proofs, each of which serves a distinct purpose. Artist’s Proofs (A. P.), which represent up to around 10% of the total edition, are meant to be retained by the artist. State Proofs are used at the testing stage of printing. The first test print is called the 1st state (French: 1ere e tat), followed by the 2nd state (2e e tat) and so on.