How to Tell if Your Picture is Original or a Reproduction

AY Jackson paintings are widely reproduced as prints

Have you ever bought a painting or print and wondered if it was an original or a reproduction? You might have come across a work of art at a garage sale or in a dusty antique shop and hoped that you had found something that no one else recognized as valuable. You excitedly went home and did your research online based on the artist’s signature and found that the artist was well known and that the work he or she did is quite valuable. Pay Dirt!

Not so fast. Before you start counting how you will spend your new-found windfall, find out if what you own is an actual work of art or a reproduction. Here are three tips:

Tip #1: Any antique dealer who wants to stay in business has learned to do research on the items they sell. Even if the shop is messy and dirty and it doesn’t appear that the owner knows anything about what they have, don’t be fooled. Some dealers keep their shops looking like that on purpose so that it makes people think that they are “discovering” something valuable.

Tip #2: Buy yourself a jeweller’s loupe that will magnify an object at minimum 10 times (10X). Hold the loupe as close to the surface of the picture as possible. If the piece is obscured by glass and is difficult to see, remove the picture from its frame. Even if you see the picture is on canvas, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a painting – yet.

Session 10 Magnified detail of a photographic reproduction.

Magnified detail of a photographic reproduction.

The first thing that tells you whether you have an original or reproduction is if you can see thousands of little dots (see the picture shown above) under magnification. This tells you right away that the item is a photographic reproduction, not an original work of art. It’s the first “litmus” test.

Tip #3: You can have an original print. This means that the hand of the artist was involved in its conception and production. If this is the case, you may still see those dots but the artist will have signed the print and numbered it. For example 6/35 means that this print was the sixth one of a total production of 35 prints. But you can still have a reproduction of an original print. How to tell? Use your loupe and look for the dots covering the artists signature. If the signature is made up of little dots then it’s a photographic reproduction.

Prints on canvas can be embellished by hand making it hard to tell a reproduction from an original. Image from

Prints on canvas can be embellished by hand making it hard to tell a reproduction from an original. Image from

If the artist’s signature is original, then do some research to determine what value that artist’s prints are worth. A Picasso “print” would still be worth a lot of money…

Antique “prints” and reproductions may be worth money but it really depends on the market, age, rarity, condition and all the other criteria that make up value in objects. But at least now you have a bit more ammunition in determining if it’s “real” or not


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