The popularity and the high quality of fin-de-siècle printmaking led to a flourishing trade in collector’s editions: deluxe versions of prints that were originally designed as the covers of sheet music and theatre programmes, book or magazine illustrations, and posters.
They were now turned into artworks in their own right, printed on fine paper with wide margins, and in limited editions that were also sometimes numbered and signed.
The text that appeared in the version for general use was often omitted, and so collector’s editions were described as ‘avant la lettre’.
Two versions at once
Henri Gabriel Ibels was the master of the collector’s edition.
Many of his sheet music illustrations were actually published simultaneously as deluxe editions by Edouard Kleinmann with different versions: black-and-white or hand-coloured with watercolour, and printed on different types of paper.
These prints, produced in editions of 100, were promoted on the sheet music itself.
In this way, Ibels could appeal at the same time to the general public, which bought sheet music, and to the select group that collected prints.
Albums and print series
Collector’s editions were not only published individually, but also as print albums and series.
Jules Chéret – the king of the poster – for instance, published the album Les Maîtres de l’affiche, with reduced-size prints of posters.
In this way, large functional prints, designed to grab attention in public spaces, were turned into collector’s editions in a more convenient format.
Phillip Dennis Cate, Sinclair Hamilton Hitchings & André Mellerio, The Color Revolution : Color Lithography in France 1890 – 1900, Santa Barbara, 1970
Gérard Millot, ‘Henri-Gabriel Ibels, Nabi illustrator of songs: a catalogue raisonné of his music sheets’, Zimmerli Journal (2005), nr. 3, pp. 198-215
Ruth Iskin, The Poster: Art, Advertising, Design, and Collecting, 1860s/1900s., New Hampshire, 2014