Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Certificates of Authenticity - Are they worth it?

The paint is fresh on the canvas, the prints are hot off the press, and the online store beams with the glow of new updates. I'm happily cruising along the winding road of organizing myself as an artist, though there is still a long road ahead! The issue that has concerned me lately has been how best to present and sell my original artwork.

I've gotten off my bum to properly mat and store things and now I'm trying to figure out the best way to keep track of the history of my art. When original work sells, should I just let it disappear into the ether into whatever hands have claimed it at a far off art show? The thought of letting this happen with no real way to keep track of where my work goes is a bit disturbing to me sometimes. The question of how to inventory my art and keep track of collectors hovers over my head like an ominous apple waiting to fall. Is it even important to keep track of who has my work for a convention artist?

Could certificates of authenticity be part of a solution to my worries?

A certificate of authenticity (CoA) is a certificate which is included with a work which states the title of the piece, the artist, the current owner of the piece, print edition number (if any), and other such pertinent information (Example CoA).

Certificates by themselves are not enough to guarantee authenticity, but some services which provide CoA's, such as the Fine Art Registry, also provide special tags to be attached to the original which carry the registered number of the work and consider the CoA a type of Title Registration which is then added to their searchable database. Titles may be transferred from one collector to another with the information aiding in providing legal provenance for a work (or an origin traceable from artist to collector), which is important for those who claim art as an investment and for some museums and galleries who appreciate the security of an existing provenance.

Such tags, certificates, and registration can help deter counterfeiting and to keep track of artwork after it has passed from the hands of an artist. Also, the perceived value of a work is cemented by the fact it is proven, of sorts, as a one of a kind piece made by the artist, and no one else. In a world where the internet and computers have made it possible to easily copy just about anything, this concept appeals to me.

Now I am left wondering if it is worth paying a company to register my work? Is registering my art safe? Would you, as an art buyer, have more confidence in buying if a work was tagged, certified, and registered? Presentation-wise, I have to admit I am rather impressed with prints which tout a nicely printed certificate hand-signed by the artist. It gives it that special something rather than just tossing a print in a bag and shoving it at someone (granted that's what I do now and I've never gotten any complaints).

I am currently doing what research I can on the various art registries and hope to have some sort of concrete evidence to show for it soon. I am also considering registering some of my limited edition prints to see how the system works and if it has any effect on the confidence of my buyers.

Places I've been looking at (feel free to suggest others!):
  • National Fine Art Registry - Requires a monthly fee. Allows for title registration and provides CoA's, price cards, and title transfers.

  • Fine Art Registry - Various membership levels, including a free membership. Ability to pay per registered work instead of monthly. Allows for title registration and transfer and provides a special holographic coded tag to be added to work directly. Tag is readable even if destroyed or removed. Tag also self-destructs if removed with the remaining residue readable as an identification key.
I hope to return with another post reporting any additional findings concerning authentification and registration of artwork in the future. Till then, I leave you with the following questions to ponder:
  • Would you, as an artist, pay to register your work?

  • Would you, as an art buyer, feel more comfortable with work which has been certified?

  • Are art title registries reliable?

  • Should certification be reserved for 'popular' artists, or can everyone do it?

  • Does certifying your artwork when you're not 'popular' mean you're being arrogant?
Please share your experiences, if you have had some with registries. I would love to hear about them.

EDIT 2-18-2015: I've started a discussion at an online art group I'm in which may be of some use to my readers. See what other professional artists and art collectors have to say about this topic here!  Kurt Rush's comment is of particular interest to the topic and how it affects collectors.


  1. Hmmm, you've given me a lot to think about actually. I'm going to peek around and see what this is like :)

  2. "Tag also self-destructs if removed with the remaining residue readable as an identification key." Seriously? That totally made me laugh.

    My layman's thoughts on this is that.. firstly I didn't know about registries, so I wouldn't have worried about buying something without one. Secondly, I don't think I'd be buying anything so expensive/important/unique that I'd want to know if I had the only one, etc. I mean, I can understand the concern of copies vs. originals, but I'm content with poster prints, so not too big a thing for me :)

    From what I understand of it, I don't think certification necessarily needs to be for the big names, I would think it depends more on the value of the piece? Do you need to prove it's an original or one of a limited series, because your buyers are willing to pay big bucks for that unique work? Also, on the buyer side of things, if you started certifying your works, would that make them more expensive to purchase? Does one pay for the perk of knowing it's certified, or should that go without saying?

  3. Hayley, It's apparently common practice for high end collectors to do this sort of thing. For them, art represents a significant investment of thousands of dollars not generally covered by homeowner's insurance. Therefore, they take the idea of tagging and registration for insurance purposes much more seriously. This is especially valuable when there are some folks who make a living copying famous works works and passing them off as originals and the danger of counterfeiting is high.

    I would never have thought about this thing really till I followed my random curiosity into doing MOAR RESEARCH. My work is at the point where it's not worth thousands just yet (minus the bigger works which I won't part with for less than a thousand), but when considering the collection of all work I own in a group, the amount is somewhat larger than what my parents' homeowner's insurance will cover if it's destroyed in a flood, storm, etc. I know certification can help with an appraisal, but I'm not quite clear on how the process works just yet.

    Still doing research and definitely interested by this tagging concept, as I never would have thought of it either! It's a completely foreign practice for more casual art collectors like you and me, though something I feel is important for me to study more about.

    I imagine this would drive up the price of certified pieces, but not by very much, considering the process only costs a few dollars.