Be Smart About Art

Sell more with limited editions

written by: Susan Mumford May 22, 2016 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 3412 views

Sell more with limited editions

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Many artists create limited editions*, ranging from 2 to the thousands (though most commonly they’re under 100). What happens to the pricing of individual pieces as an edition sells? Is each work the same amount, or does it go up over time?  

Consider this example from my days as an art consultant: a prospective client was keen to acquire a work he’d spotted at a friend’s home. As it happens, I had known the artist for years, as well as the gallery who published the prints. Knowing that the series was popular and having a hot sales lead, I immediately reached out to the dealer.

She informed me that there were only 3 still available (48, 49 and 50) in the run of 50. Not only did this mean that it was going to be costlier than earlier numbers in the series, my percentage as a consultant was going to be smaller.

At the time, there was no question about the higher price, for the print was nearly sold out on the primary market. With increasing visibility of the piece (such as my client noticing it on someone else’s wall) combined with there being fewer copies available, the financial value was pushed upwards. The buyer had no qualms about the outlay and immediately purchased number 48/50.

This story exemplifies a concept that is relevant for selling works of art in limited editions: supply and demand. According to, it’s defined as “the amount of a commodity, product, or service available and the desire of buyers for it, considered as factors regulating its price.” Increasing prices as the edition sells honours the popularity of a piece, all the while providing more profitability for the maker and other associated parties.

My experience is that the main reason artists don’t increase prices of limited editions is lack of confidence. A secondary cause is the absence of an inventory management system and/or the inability to vary prices in online shops. Yet when I’ve succeeded in giving artists and dealers the confidence to try it, they’ve seen an uptick in sales.

It gets even better. Providing you plan the limited edition price strategy early on, this can be used to help you sell more. Say that several people are interested in acquiring number 2/5, and yet the price increases as of number 3. You can go to each of them, advising someone else is seriously considering buying the work, and so if they want to get the lower price, they should buy now.

Some artists and dealers go so far as to list the price list of a full edition (at shows and online). This enables viewers to understand that the earlier they get in, the lower the amount. Smart and strategic!

This isn’t to say that you can’t change prices down the road if the first strategy you try doesn’t work for a certain edition run. Furthermore, inflation and changes in the world economy can impact prices in ways that you simply cannot foresee.

Now the big question is: Why not? Give it a go.


Related blog post: Inflation and the price of (your) art


*A limited edition is just that; the maker commits to making no more than a certain number of pieces from an original plate / negative / mould, according to a maximum number determined from day one. While some artists still complete full editions at the outset, many who use modern techniques (that are more easily and consistently produced) or who create costly metal sculptures tend to generate works within an edition as earlier numbers sell. (Mind, there are numerous variations to how makers work, and no doubt readers work in a multiplicity of ways.)

Conversely, in an open edition, the maker doesn’t commit to limiting the number of pieces produced, and thus there is no set size.  


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