There’s no magic bullet for creating raving fans and booming business. To “make it” as an artist you’ll need an imprecise combination of good work, good marketing, and a whole lot of time and patience. Tools like a certificate of authenticity, fancy website widgets, or an Instagram flash sale are just that: helpful tools. They aren’t magic. But they can make a difference (with time and consistency) in the way that your collectors perceive your work, which can lead to an improvement in sales.
With that disclaimer out of the way, what is a certificate of authenticity, and how should you use one for your art business?
What is a certificate of authenticity?
If you’ve ever purchased a print from a gallery or private collection, you may have received a certificate of authenticity, perhaps with some kind of a foil seal and the signature of the artist or the printer. Such a document is intended to testify to the authenticity of the purchased print. That is, it’s not a fake.
COAs, as we’ll refer to them from now on, also provide important information about the print, the series, the original piece, etc. According to the document Expanding Art Markets: Prints, Certificates of Authenticity, and Art Licensing by Brooke Oiver, Esq., “Certificates of authenticity inform the art buyer about the artist’s identity, the extent of the artist’s involvement in creating the print, the number of prints made from the same master that are available on the market, the process used to create the print, whether the print is from a limited edition, whether the master plate has been destroyed, and other information relevant to the consumer making an informed choice about the value and price of the print s/he is buying. Several states have passed consumer protection statutes that require art dealers to provide certificates of authenticity along with any sale of a fine art print in and even into their state.”
The reason why COAs must be taken seriously by the professional artist is that the market is flooded with fraudulent prints and unauthorized copies, and any schmuck with a printer can produce an official-looking certificate. A “real” COA that actually means something will give detailed and relevant information about the artist, the print run, the status of the original piece, etc, and the certificate is meant to help the buyer assess the current and future value of the print in question.
This example is a free Word template that has been reworded
According to ArtBusiness.com, “Unless a certificate of authenticity originates from and is signed by either the artist who created the art, the publisher of the art (in the case of limited editions), a confirmed established dealer or agent of the artist (not a casual third party dealer or reseller), or an acknowledged expert on the artist, that certificate is likely to be pretty much meaningless.”
Good reasons to use a certificate of authenticity
They may help reduce fraud: While the average working artist is unlikely to be a victim of fraud, it is a possibility. So one of the primary purposes of the COA is to provide some measure of protection for the buyer: if they don’t receive the original COA, they can know that it’s not an authentic print. A certificate of authenticity won’t stop someone from copying your work (read up on copyright law for artists for other ways you can protect yourself), but using them consistently may help protect the integrity of your business and reputation and maintain the high value of your work.
They tap into consumer psychology: Not dissimilar from running a “limited time only” sale, a certificate of authenticity taps into the psyche of the buyer, reassuring them that this is the “real deal” and that with a legal document attached, it must be more valuable than a print sold without a COA. If you work in a medium or style that is easy to copy or that is already well saturated, a COA can help set you apart. COAs also tend to be associated with “fine” art and are likely to be viewed as items with higher prestige.
How to create a certificate of authenticity
The “problem” with COAs is that there is not one standardized and universally-accepted way to create one. You can utilize an organization like Genuine COA that offers a third-party witness with a unique serial number if you like the official look, but keep in mind that they aren’t more legally “official” than anything else. They can, however, increase value and trust in a customer’s eyes. Third party organizations are often focused on autographed memorabilia and collectibles versus contemporary fine art.
This and 36 other certificates of authenticity can be downloaded from PrintableTemplates.com
If you want to include COAs as part of your business model, you can print them yourself on any home printer. The important thing is to remember to include all the applicable information outlined above:
- The artist’s identity
- The extent of the artist’s involvement in creating the print
- The number of prints made from the same master that are available on the market.
- The process used to create the print
- Whether the print is from a limited edition
- Whether the master plate has been destroyed
A quick Google search will turn up dozens of free templates for creating an official-looking document. If you have your art prints done at a local shop or otherwise in a manner that involves a third party, having them sign the certificate as well will increase the trust factor.
Ultimately, a certificate of authenticity is a tool that some artists swear by, and others will avoid touching with a 6-foot pole. It comes down to personal preference and one’s overall philosophy of business. The same logic that applies to tools like COAs also applies to social media platforms and other business tools: the “best” option is simply the one that you will use consistently.
Are you using certificates of authenticity in your art business? Let us know in the comments.