August 25, 2009 5:28 AM   Subscribe

Can somebody please explain to me what a "plate" is used for in the art world? Are they used to make prints? Are they of any value if they are attributed to a famous artist? How are they produced?
posted by cheechman85 to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A plate is indeed used to make a print, via a process called Lithography. That should answer most of it for you.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:32 AM on August 25, 2009

Best answer: And yes, the plate may well have some value if it was produced for a well-known artist.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:34 AM on August 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you very much... this is what I was looking for.
posted by cheechman85 at 5:43 AM on August 25, 2009

Printmaking processes such as lithography and intaglio etching require the artist to make their image on a metal plate or lithographic stone which is then used to reproduce multiple prints.

Fine art prints are usually printed in limited editions. An artist and their printmaker will agree upon the specific number of prints for the edition. After the print run has been completed sometimes the plate will be marked or defaced in such a way that prevents any subsequent prints. This practice protects the value of the artist's work in the art market.
posted by quosimosaur at 6:17 AM on August 25, 2009

"Plate" can casually refer to any original printing plate which has been etched, engraved or painted by the artist for use in a printing process, not just lithography. If you own "plates" then you're probably talking about small metal sheets of either copper or zinc which have been drawn upon by an artist with a scribe for use in making multiple copies of the same image. Lithographic stone, monotype plates etc are unlikely to survive in any significant numbers on the open market.

Old plates are scarce and highly collectable, especially antique copper plates used in old master engraving and etching. As mentioned above they are often destroyed or defaced, and would not normally appear on the market. There is often no sign of authorship on the plate - the date and signature being added later to individual prints - but the artist is often irrelevant as they are such a curiostity people will pay good money for them regardless. They needn't be used in the production of unique works of art, plates used in the mass printing of books are just as collectable. If you know the artist then it all depends who they are. I've been lucky enough to handle a quite a few old copper plates over the years, they often appear at auction in filthy states, and with most people unaware exactly what they are you can often pick them up relatively cheaply.
posted by fire&wings at 6:43 AM on August 25, 2009

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