A question about the valuation of a limited edition print

I certainly understand the idea and purpose of limited edition prints: it can be a viable way for art collectors who may be priced out of the market for original works by famous artists to get art by the same artist at a more-reasonable price. Artists have been making prints for centuries, it’s nothing new. Let’s come up with an example: a famous artist might sell original paintings for $100,000 each, but make a series of numbered and limited edition prints and sell them for $5,000 each. To use a real world example, I’m sure Pablo Picasso’s original oil on canvas paintings were very expensive by the 1950s and 1960s, yet he made limited edition prints that certainly had a willing audience ready to buy. Picasso worked with a master printmaker named Aldo Crommelynk (whom I had the pleasure to meet, long ago), who also worked with Braque, Matisse, and Jasper Johns, among others. The artist comes to the printmaker’s studio, creates the image and utilizes the printmaker’s technical expertise to make the series of prints. The famous artist is involved in the process, and affordable art is created.

Which brings me to my rant today … without naming names or digging up dirt, I’ll just say that I heard about a recent print project where a limited edition set was released by a highly regarded gallery featuring the work of a very famous artist who died over 30 years ago. Family members involved in the artist’s estate signed the prints on behalf of the estate, and the edition sold out within a few days. From what I understand from various media reports, each numbered set of editioned prints sold for $50,000. Granted, this is a “bargain” for an artist whose original work sells for millions of dollars, but my question is: why are collectors paying this amount for this particular edition? If the “famous artist” has passed away long ago and had no involvement in the project, and the prints are signed by family relatives, how does this make the art a “famous artist art work” and not just a glorified reproduction? Will these prints have resale value as “famous artist art works” in the future, despite the artist having nothing to do with these particular art works?

Here’s another example: if a business offered limited edition Leonardo da Vinci prints of the Mona Lisa, created this week and signed by Leonardo’s great-great-great-great-grandaughter, would you think you’re buying an actual Leonardo da Vinci? Could you resell it as a Leonardo da Vinci art work? I know this is perhaps a ridiculous argument or comparison, but what’s the difference between “new” art by an artist who died 30 years ago vs. an artist who died 500 years ago?

If I’m misunderstanding the validity of this situation or am making a fuss about nothing, please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you’re a collector who bought art in this or a similar situation, I’d love to hear your thought process.

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