Painters signed and numbered their works starting back in the late eighteen hundreds as a way to promote and preserve their rights as the artist of those works. When a painting is signed and numbered, it may be sold for twice the price of a painting that doesn't contain these important markings. The presence of an artist's hand written name and numerical markings are extremely valuable attributes of artwork. The value is reflected in the price they fetch on the market. It is a very structured practice that lets the buyer know who the artist is and lets them know the order of the painting's production in the collection.
In the 1880’s, James McNeil Whistler became one of the first artists to autograph and tally his painting outside the matrix. He then sold his painting for twice what it was worth without the pencil notation marks. This happened because the painting was now made specific to a certain collection and artist. Though the painting itself was already worth a good sum, the hand written name and the fractioned figure added a hefty sum to the total price. Whistler opened many artists' eyes, helping them to recognize the worth of their own names when they signed and numbered their paintings.
Contrary to what people may believe, the fraction at the bottom left of a painting is not the grade given; rather, it is the number given to the painting to indicate the order of its printing in that edition. The figure on the top represents the order of printing by which the reproduction was produced. The lower figure of the fraction denotes the total amount of reproductions in that set. The autographing of paintings is typically done in the lower right hand corner. This is very important because the artist puts his or her unique markings on a painting and makes it his or her own. This assures the buyer of its authenticity. Thus, it signifies that an autographed painting is a finished product, ready to be put to market or hung in a museum. The autograph gives a painting presence while the fractioned figure gives it place. Once a painting is signed and numbered the painting's worth doubles in price.
A painting is normally marked in the paper margin of the print and always done in pencil. This is purposefully done in order to protect the painting from mistakes made when autographing. Also, if the pencil gets accidentally erased the indentation can still be visible. When space is not immediately available in the paper margin, an artist may choose instead to autograph his or her painting on the reverse side. Furthermore, the artist must also be careful never to write in the matrix of the painting. Autographing within the matrix puts the painting at risk of being smeared or damaged. When an artist finalizes his works with the proper identification, he has ensured his painting's success in the market.
A signed and numbered painting tells of its authenticity and elevated market value. Following a prescribed order and positioning of notations, an artist is able to increase the value of his or her works.