2021 Was the Year for Prints

With $163 million in sales, 45% of the lots made prices above the estimates

Marion Maneker

Fri, Jan 21, 2022

2021 Was the Year for Prints

In their 2021 end of year reporting, Phillips auction house revealed that their sales of prints and multiples had risen by 46% from 2020 to 2021. That’s an eye-popping number, but it doesn’t show the full extent of the prints and editions market overall. 

According to LiveArt’s coverage of the 2021 Prints and Editions sales at Phillips, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the overall sales volume was $163,498,997. The average print sale was $23,976. The market had a very strong dynamic score of 1.56 if we use the hammer ratio, which is the total hammer price divided by the aggregate low estimate. The dynamic score reveals the extent of demand. Hitting 1.56 across an entire market and year is a very strong indicator. The only stronger number is the 99% sell-through rate for this market.

Of the 6818 lots that LiveArt tracked, all but nine of those were sold. Another 18% of the lots were sold for prices below the low estimate. Twice that number, or 37% of the lots, were sold within the estimate range. Another 45% of the lots—nearly half of all of the lots offered—sold for prices above the high estimate.  

The most valuable print sold in 2021 was a complete set of Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe prints that sold for $3.045 million, a price in line with expectations. A Picasso work from 1969, Séries 347, made $2.19 million which was at the top line of the estimate range. A Hokusai print from 1831 did perform far better, making a $1.59 million price that was 8.67 times the low estimate. 

The remainder of the top 25 works is a list of familiar names in the prints and multiples market: Richter, Basquiat Munch, Banksy and Nara. 

These names, along with Roy Lichtenstein, David, Hockney, Yayoi Kusama, Henri Matisse, Jasper Johns, Yoshitomo Nara, Keith Haring, March Chagall, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, and KAWS are the backbone of the market for prints. Warhol’s paintings may have been reduced in market power over the last half decade, but the artist’s prints—often made with the same silkscreen method employed in the canvases—have been a pillar of the print market. 

Warhol’s $29 million in 2021 prints sales and Banksy’s $26 million total are roughly a third of the value of the entire market for these editioned works. 

Among the individual works that were the subject of the most dynamic bidding was a woodblock print by Totoya Hokkei that sold for $100,000 over a $2,000 estimate. A print by Shara Hughes titled Split Ends was sold for $30,240 over a $1200 estimate. Kenny Scharf  had more than one print that greatly exceeded estimates but the one that ran the farthest was Grammy which sold for $20,000 over a $1000 estimate.

As the market opens in 2022 with another white-glove sale of prints and editions at Phillips in London, the demand shows little sign of abating.