HOW TO CREATE A POWERFUL CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY
& LETTER OF PROVENANCE
This content was written by Angela Abrahamson, ChromaZone Ink, Melbourne FL
Certificate of Authenticity (COA) vs. Letter of Provenance (LOP)
There is a lot of confusion wrapped around creating Certificates of Authenticity & Letters of Provenance and their true value. Are they just a sales gimmick or are they actually necessary for your artwork? As part of a couple who has been in almost every aspect of the fine art business for numerous years, I will answer these questions for you. You can learn more of our fine art related FAQ answers by checking out the ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing FAQs page or contacting us at 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901.
Free templates to create Certificates of Authenticity (COA) & Letters of Provenance (LOP)
In this article, I’ll explain creating Certificates of Authenticity & Letters of Provenance. I’ll also discuss when & why COAs & LOPs are preferred from both the buyer and the artist’s perspective. Once you understand the value and appropriateness as to whether a COA or LOP is applicable to your work, I will provide free download templates at the end of this article. There are both editable MS Word documents and Adobe Acrobat .pdf templates if you don’t have Word. The templates are what I use for my own artwork, so they’ll need to be tweaked for your own. Be sure to read every word of them so you don’t misguide anyone!
What is a Certificate of Authenticity?
A Certificate of Authenticity is a document that the artist, or artist’s representative provides with a piece of artwork, usually a reproduction that has a pre-determined number of copies that will ever be printed, or a “Limited Edition.” In my opinion, because of the experiences I have encountered, a good COA, should provide information that will have specific, traceable information on it, such as:
- An image of the artwork
- The title of the artwork
- The artist(s)
- The dimensions of the image
- The printer or publisher (or both for third-party verification, although some artists do their own printing)
- The year the artwork was completed
- The medium of the reproduction ex: “Giclée on Canvas” or “Lithograph”
- The subject matter with description of the art
- The edition size and specific number of the work for which each COA is issued against.
A real signature by the authorized party – not a photocopied or stamped signature
Some offer more information, some less. I like to include a copyright statement on mine. This simply informs people they do not have the right to do reproduce the image themselves. Many think that if they pay for an item, they can do anything they like with it, and we artists know that is not true! Mine are printed on parchment paper, front and back. If you click the thumbnail image here, a larger version will appear so you can see the example better. There will be a downloadable template at the end of this article.
Help Prevent Fraud!
Fraudulent COAs have become rampant in the fine art industry. Therefore, as a creator of art I have chosen to add as much specific data and even a raised, embossed seal on each of my COAs. My hope is to discourage fraud and protect my collectors as much as I can, although I know anything is possible. One of the worst offenders I have seen who was prone to mislead art buyers was a particular gallery who may or may not still service cruise ships as of this writing. They created their own “XYZ Gallery Certificate of Authenticity” which had absolutely nothing to do with validation from the artist, and after a “Channel Six Action News” exposé I was interviewed for in the early 2000s, I often wonder if the actual artists even know how many pieces of their art are or were actually sold on those ships. Before ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing, I owned an art gallery where Brian and I were interviewed by an “Action News” reporter. The channel six reporter dubbed us “local experts” on art authenticity due to our backgrounds & magnification equipment we had then. The art in question was a “Rembrandt” print that a couple purchased on a cruise ship for $18,000. I pointed out to them that the “COA” was from the selling gallery. It did not state anything on it in reference to authorized publisher or estate designations for verification purposes. At the end of it all, the couple was able to return the reproduction and got a refund from the gallery involved. Case in point, COAs come in many flavors and do not always mean a piece of art is authentic. Here are some ways to try to protect yourself, however:
- NEVER buy a piece of art unless you are shown the COA BEFORE you purchase! I hear repeatedly that that someone buys something online with the promise that the COA will be sent to them. Then they never receive it.
- Look carefully at the COA. Is it issued by the artist, or the artists publisher, one you can actually contact for verification? Or is it issued by the retail entity selling the artwork? Granted, many galleries do publish artists so you may very well have a valid COA issued from a gallery. But use common sense before you purchase. If I were buying expensive art that has a gallery-issued COA, I would want to see at least one of that artist’s original works hanging in that gallery. I would also find out if the artist is having any openings or meet-and-greet events advertised at that gallery. That would put my mind at ease. If possible, I would show up at that event and ask the artist to endorse the back for me. If, however, a gallery was selling a work by an old master or artist who has passed and the COA lists that gallery as the publisher or says “XYZ Gallery Certificate of Authenticity” on it, I would do some research before purchasing. Generally speaking, the only ones who should be creating COAs are the artist, the artist’s designated publisher, agent or the artist’s estate – people who can actually validate the style and intent of the creator of the work. For example, with my own works, (not that I am any sort of master, but there is always hope!!!) I authorize ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing to sign and issue COAs for my giclée prints that they produce if I am not available. This is because, well, I’m married to the owner and I trust him with every part of me. I have seen him refuse to print copies of artwork for people without proper releases or permission from the artist. I know he will never devalue my work by printing un-registered copies or more than the set edition number.
- Is there a receipt for the purchase from the party you are purchasing it from? When there is no COA, a receipt can often validate genuine artwork, but don’t expect to always see one on the secondary market where a collector bought fine art as an investment and is selling it at a higher price than what he or she originally paid. That is of course, perfectly legal.
Again, do not assume that just because a piece of art has a certificate of authenticity that is genuine. As a buyer, you should at least take the precautions I have listed above. As a creator, I even go one step further to try to protect my collectors and have started adding ownership tracking on the back of each COA. Enter, the “Letter of Provenance.”
What is a Letter of Provenance (LOP)?
Basically, a Letter of Provenance is for original works of art what a COA is for reproductions. Because original works of art are far more valuable than most reproductions, they often dictate more proof of authenticity. Provenance is a French word that means “to prove” or “place of origin” and is a chronological listing of ownership. This long line of documented proof is handled in the form of a letter that lists trackable ownership back to the artist. The letter goes with the original art from owner to owner. The more lineage and documentation that can be shown about a piece of artwork, the more “verifiable” it is, thus the more valuable. So as a buyer, you’ll want to have an LOP if it is available, and as a creator, you’ll want to provide one with the sale of each original work of art. It’s an optimistic view that if you’re not already a famous creator, you will be one day, …and everyone should have that hope!
An LOP contains pretty much the same information that a COA has, sans the printer / edition data. The biggest difference is that it states the artwork is original (not a reproduction) and it will include more information opportunities for each of the successive owners to document and sign. Again, here is an example of mine where you’ll see another copyright statement. Because of the lightning fast social and electronic age we’re in, I now include a privacy statement too. Click the image for an enlarged sample. The downloadable versions are at the end of this document.
I could go on and on about COAs, LOPs, Originals and Limited Editions – and I do! – In another article in the ChromaZone Ink Canvas Printing FAQs on Artist Proofs & Limited Editions. But for now, as promised here are the links to download the free templates I have created for myself. Please feel free to take from them and change them for your own use. After all, the more validity and verifiable information we can include with our creations, the better it is for us and our collectors! ChromaZone Ink Canvas Prints would love to be your giclée printing company, call us at 321-312-4800 | 800-501-2901. Thanks for reading this! – Angela
NOTE: These downloads should open in a different tab