The only way to know for sure is to examine the pattern of the grain under a loupe. That being said, most photogravures are printed on one side of the page only, the surface of the ink is usually matte and there are often times a plate impression or debossed or embossed edge (plate mark) outside of the image area.
Are photogravures originals?
The short answer is yes. Photogravures are made by hand. The plates are usually made from original negatives and often by or under the direct supervision of the artist. Photographers like Stieglitz, Coburn and Emerson chose the photogravure process for their final exhibition prints.
How many copies are there?
Photogravures were originally used to illustrate books and periodicals of the late 1800s and early 1900s. These publications were sometimes printed in editions of up to 1000 but more commonly in editions of less than 300. Modern photogravures are most commonly limited to editions of less than 75.
It should be noted that photogravures are made by hand and therefore the pulls can vary from print to print depending on the person inking the plate as well as the place in the edition of the pull. I have been told that the best pulls tend to be from the middle of the run after the printmaker has learned the unique characteristic of that plate, but before the plate shows any signs of wear.
Are photogravures worth anything?
The market value of a photogravure is determined by many variables including:
Importance of artist
Photogravures have sold at auctions for over $100,000 and commonly command prices in the tens of thousands. Auction records can be researched at ArtPrice.com.
Where can I see photogravures?
While we have made every attempt to interpret the look of the photogravure process in this electronic environment, it is impossible to experience the soft, rich tactile qualities of gravures without seeing them first hand.
If you are interested in viewing gravures, try visiting the rare book room at a public library or museum. Photo galleries usually have a few in their inventory. Also you can find them on display at photography auction previews like Sotheby's, Christie's and Swann as well as photo shows like AIPAD or Photo LA.
If you are interested in purchasing photogravures, or starting a collection, check out the dealers listed in our resources section. They are reliable and have a wide range of photogravures to offer.
Should I buy photogravures on Ebay?
Purchasing photogravures on EBay is certainly one way to acquire them, BUT — buyer beware. It is only recommend if you know exactly what you are buying and you have asked the seller for a full condition report.
Sometimes established dealers and auction houses will list photogravures on Ebay, in which case you could feel more comfortable bidding but still be sure to request a condition report. Less informed sellers often confuse the less desirable rotogravure with hand-pulled Talbot-Klic grain gravures.
Are photogravures susceptible to damage from light?
All works on paper are susceptible to damage from ultra-violet rays of light. It is important that gravures, when displayed, are properly matted and framed behind uv-protected glass. Photogravures however, unlike other photographic processes, are only ink on paper and therefore are not as susceptible as prints that contain light sensitive materials like silver or platinum. Ink is made from artist pigments like oil paint. Carbon black, a principal component of ink, is as irreducible as gold. The important factor for longevity is the quality of the paper and the humidity of the environment.
If displayed properly, photogravures can be enjoyed indefinitely without damage. For information on proper framing and hanging conditions please see our conservation section.
A note about removing photogravures from books
Photogravures often are found in rare books. These books are sometimes "broken" by dealers in order to remove the photogravure plates. The plates are usually more valuable individually, then when bound in a book.
This is a dangerous and destructive process and should be carefully considered. There are many books that have not withstood the test of time. Their spines are broken; covers are detached or in other ways significantly damaged. These books are sometimes referred to as "breakers" and are better sources for individual plates.
However, breaking a book that is in good condition is considered a crime and should be avoided at all cost.