The Essential guide to buying prints

Shane Xu of SwordersShane Xu heads up Sworders new print department where she works on the house’s two dedicated auctions each year, alongside explaining the attraction of buying prints to potential clients and the different printmaking techniques. Here she shares her expertise on everything from how to start buying prints for a collection, to what’s in demand and the ones to watch. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start buying prints?

I always advise clients to start from the artists they like, or very well established artists. You can find some really good prints at art fairs across London. There are usually editions available at exhibitions. More serious collectors can also go to the British Museum Prints Room and request to study prints from the Museum collection.

Explain why buyers should spend money on what is “essentially a copy”?

Until very recently, the vast majority of prints are unique versions of the same subject. There are many traditional techniques in printing but they all have their own characteristics – for example the way a lithograph can come out on paper is effectively a unique “fingerprint.”

More recently, as technology has developed, artists have begun to use high definition printers which produce identical prints on different media and termed as “editions,” rather than traditional prints. Artists would limit these editions to, say, 25 or 500 depending on the demand on their work.

Who is mainly buying prints?

Trade: for rare works, and cheaper works to make profit

Private: for works they like, and potential investment

What artists are currently most sought-after?

Obviously Banksy is probably one of the most famous names in Contemporary Art and his works are always sought after at auctions. Modern British Artists such as David Hockney and Lowry have experienced a rise in demand over the last five years. Going further afield, anything by Andy Warhol is bound to fetch a lot at art fairs and auctions.

Shane Xu of SwordersAre there any particular eras more in demand than others?

In the UK, British artists are more popular, both modern and contemporary. The urban art scene which includes Banksy has been in demand for five years and though the initial fervour has calmed, the market remains very strong for his works, supported by the younger generation who don’t necessarily like traditional form of art.

What emerging markets are the ‘ones to watch’?

At the level below the Banksys, Hockneys and Lowrys we have artists such as Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, who have a strong following among the serious collectors but yet to take hold in the mainstream. Their colourful and distinctly modern works hold great appeal for collectors and often sits well in modern homes. Prices have been steadily rising but they are still very good value for money.

Can a print collection appeal to all budgets?

Yes of course. You can get good prints for £100 and they easily can go right up to £100,000 plus.

What are the key elements to consider when buying?

We always need to look at the condition, provenance, artists of course. There also needs to be checks on authenticity – whether it’s a signed, official edition with a genuine signature. The print run does have an impact but the aforementioned factors are more important to the value.

What prints would you love to own?

Early etching by German artist Dieter Roth, who was a great friend with Richard Hamilton, and they did a series of interesting collaborations together. Also a lithograph by Harland Miller who takes the traditional penguin book cover design and uses it to create his own messages. I have been a huge literature fan since my teenage years, and it appears to me a great combination.


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