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When you buy a photographic print, it's not just an investment; it's a piece of art to enjoy for decades. The Certificate of Authenticity is your warrantee that you can do that. This article explains what should be on the COA and why you should care.

Picture of COA

Certificates of Authenticity - Do You Need Them?
by Tom O Scott

If you look on the back of many photographic prints, you'll see something called a "Certificate of Authenticity," or COA. Is a COA really necessary? The answer is a resounding yes.

First of all, the COA is in essence a contract between you and the artist that warrantees you are getting what you paid for. If your print is part of a limited edition, then the COA should tell you that. If it was not printed using archival paper and ink (see the article, Digital Considerations for more on this), the COA should inform you appropriately.

A good COA should have at the very least the following information:

  • It must have this exact wording, at least in the state of California: This is to certify that all information and the statements contained herein are true and correct.
  • It should be signed by the artist, assuming the artist is alive. If the artist is not alive, then the COA should say that.
  • Information about the process used to create the print. Here you are looking for a film process that assures you longevity, or, if it is a digital print, information about the ink and paper used.
  • Edition information: if your print is part of a limited edition, then you should have the print number, and the total number of prints in the edition. Keep in mind that some artists have multiple editions based on the size of the print. If that is so, then information about all the editions should be on the COA.
  • The date, or at least the year, the reproduction was made.

What if there is no COA on the back of the image? Don't panic. If you are dealing with a reputable gallery, simply ask the sales representative to have the artist provide you with a COA.

One last caveat: make sure the COA itself is printed on archival paper! You don't want to have an archival image that lasts 100 years, while its COA fades into nothingness after 10 years.

© 2005 Tom O Scott. Other sites may reproduce this article, or portions of it, by permission only. If you would like to do so, please send email to webmaster@www.ordoverproject.com.