The edition number engraved on each of a series of cast sculptures provides information on both the total number of copies produced and the sequential number of each cast in the series. The process of creating a sculpture edition is quite straightforward, if occasionally misunderstood. This article is an outline of the basic principals involved in numbering a cast sculpture edition.
There is no legal obligation on a sculptor to restrict the number of casts that are produced from an original design – provided no edition limit has been indicated or otherwise attributed to an earlier copy of the same work (note, legislation and obligations here may vary according to jurisdiction).
Any sculpture series (ie multiple copies of the same design), that is to be limited to a finite number – ‘the edition’ – is usually divided into two distinct parts. The first part of the edition can be referred to as the ‘artist’s series’. According to convention, this series is normally limited to a total of no more than two casts. This first series is traditionally noted using one of the following forms – 00/1 and 00/2, or alternatively – AC/1 and AC/2 for ARTIST’S COPY (some use the printmakers' annotation ‘AP’ or ‘artist’s proof’). The artist’s copies are for the sculptor’s personal reference or archive [ref 1] and these casts are not normally made available for sale.
The second category, which might be better referred to here as the ‘public series’, is also noted in a ‘fractional’ format. The first figure or NUMERATOR denotes the individual cast’s position in the production sequence. The second figure or DENOMINATOR indicates the total number of copies available in that edition. Editions of sculpture are conventionally limited by multiples of three, 3, 6, 9, 12 and so on, though any convenient total number is acceptable provided the total number is not altered after edition is released. According to this convention therfore, the fifth cast produced in a limited edition of twelve will be indicated as 5/12. The numbering sequence of this public edition does not take into account the existence of any artist’s copies; therefore, if the artist has already taken their full compliment of two reference copies, by the time the fifth copy of the public edition is produced a total of seven casts will be in existence. Once the edition has been completed the reproduction mould is usually destroyed, though unlike editions of printed material, a ‘cancellation copy’ is not produced from the distressed reproduction mould.
Practical guidelines on the appropriate limits for an edition are more or less useless, mainly because the desirable number for a given sculptural design is dependant on numerous variables. It is however, unusual (though by no means unheard of), for fine art editions of any scale to exceed a maximum of twelve to fifteen copies. Under French legislation (revised most recently in 1981), the first twelve copies of an edition are recognised as being ARTISTICALLY AUTHENTIC (subsequent copies are legally classified as ‘reproductions’ only). Similarly, US Customs recognises the first ten of an edition as being ‘original’ (this particular assessment is primarily intended a benchmark for import and duty purposes).
There are ways of increasing the numbers available from an ‘edition’ once the original mould has been destroyed – the most usual here being to re-work and re-mould the original master pattern or even an earlier cast copy. These are both dubious practices at best, and quite possibly fraudulent (or at least morally and ethically questionable). The latter technique, moulding from an existing cast (referred to as SURMOULAGE), is especially insidious. In some jurisdictions it is considered legitmate to make a copy of an owned artwork (a common justification is to keep the original safe under lock and key, using the copy for display), The irony now, is that in some cases renown sculptor's works have now become so greatly devalued through widespread copying that a good many of their circulated bronzes are potentially worth little more than the metal used to cast them [ref 2].
There are a great many complicated ethical and legal issues concerning cast bronze sculptures and similar reproductions, too detailed to be discussed in depth in this brief article; however, serious sculptors are advised to be very specific and transparent about their policy concering editions of their work. Professional sculptors should where possible maintain extensive records and catalogues and consider making clear statements in their wills and testaments as to what further reproduction of their work (if any), is permissible after their death.
One final note, there is no obligation upon sculptors to have a foundry cast an entire edition in one go. Copies can quite properly be ordered both on a 'one at a time' basis and over an extended period of time – though foundries will frequently offer significant (fee) discounts to those artists who order (and pay for) multiple numbers of an editon in advance.
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