What is a cancelled plate? Why do dealers sometimes sell etchings and lithographs printed from cancelled plates?
When an artist finishes printing the number of impressions they want of a work (the total edition size), they usually “cancel” the plate. To cancel the plate, they typically scribe noticeable crosshatch or “X” lines across the plate. These lines cross the image and will show up on any later impressions made from the plate. The lines indicate that any later impressions were not part of the original edition. Cancelling a plate is the best way an artist has to protect the value of the impressions in the official edition.
So then … impressions from cancelled plates are bad, right?
The answer varies. Usually impressions from cancelled plates are done by a dealer or printer to make additional money from a popular artist’s work. These later impressions are usually not the desire of the artist. They are valued less than impressions from the official edition.
But they are not always “bad” or without value. Artists like Degas often produced very few impressions of a work before cancelling the plate. Later in life he gave about 20 cancelled plates to his dealer Ambroise Vollard for Vollard to publish an extended edition. Thus, the Vollard edition of Degas’ etchings from cancelled plates were the artist’s intent … hence they are good. Since impressions of Degas’ prints from the pre-cancelled state of the plate are more rare, and therefore much more expensive, collectors often purchase impressions from the cancelled plates. For many of these Degas etchings, the cancellation marks are not very obtrusive.