What is a 'Limited Edition'

A limited edition is a small run of items, such as a print of a master image, meant to create a sense of rarity or exclusivity among potential collectors. Historically, limited editions have been created to sell prints of original, handmade artwork as far back as the 19th century. More recently, limited editions are created to market a wide variety of items, such as automobiles, video games, movie DVDs, music box sets, toys, books, wine, whisky and more. The unifying characteristic shared by all limited edition items is that they are generally made in smaller numbers than more basic models or versions, though the numbers can actually be quite high. Limited edition items may also be described as "special edition," "collector's edition," or "deluxe edition," though "limited edition" can take on special meaning with reproduced artwork.

Breaking Down 'Limited Edition'

Limited edition prints, which are also referred to as "LEs," provide the best example of truly limited edition objects. When making and marketing limited edition prints it is most important to make sure a print run is small enough to create a sense of rarity and exclusivity, as well as to maintain quality. Such copies of a work of art are made from a master image (or proof), either created from a hand-made original print created using more advanced imaging and printing technology. The number of limited edition prints is often limited by the lifespan of the material the print is created from. 

Limited Edition Prints: What's the Limit?

Artists typically create a set number of copies of original prints. Each copy is numbered and signed by the artist before the master image is either destroyed or marked so as to prevent its reuse, making the run of print creation a limited edition. The print number is typically written as a fraction, such as 25/50, which is called the edition number. A mark of “A/P” indicates that the print is an artist’s proof, with these proofs representing an even more limited edition. A limited edition is different from a reproduction, and collectors gravitate to prints with smaller print runs.

A limited edition print may differ from an original print because it may not be considered an original work of art. It may be created by a process other than by hand, and may not have been printed by the artist. For example, the artist may draw the image but the image is copied by a computer onto the plate used to make each impression. 

Limited Edition: Legal Implications

Many countries and individual states have laws that govern limited editions, such as print runs, quality and verification standards. For example, California was the first state to regulate limited edition prints with its 1971 Print Law. 

With the proliferation of special and limited editions manufacturers may be tempted to create various editions of the same product that may vary only slightly in form, content or packaging. This legal practice is known as "milking" and may cater to more obsessive collectors.

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