Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on September 2, 1999 in Resource Library with permission of Lonnie Pierson Dunbier. The article is an excerpt from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.  Dated 1982, the original typewriter manuscript is owned by his wife, Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, who edits and submits the chapters to TFAO. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Lonnie Pierson Dunbier in Scottsdale, AZ, at ldunbier@mac.com.


The Term "Original Print" is More Than A Tad Suspect

by Roger Dunbier


A December, 1982 UPI release from La Mesa, California, was headlined "Lawyer, Wife sue Picasso Family after Investing in Masterpiece." The article explains: "Members of the family of Pablo Picasso are being sued for $10 million by a lawyer and his wife who claim they were defrauded when they invested in a painting by the late artist as a tax shelter.

Joe and Anne Turner filed the suit in San Diego Superior Court Tuesday against five members of the artist's family, including his granddaughter, Marina, and several New York and San Diego art dealers.

The suit claims Marina Picasso and the others persuaded the Turners to invest $550,000 in a partnership involving the reproduction rights of the masterpiece Claude and Paloma in 1980.  The Turners claim they were to receive from a Swiss firm access to the original painting plus 500 prints that would be sold at a profit. The suit claimed the Picassos did nothing to produce the prints or acquire the painting for the Turners.

Now in this matter, at least three "timeless" facts I think clearly emerge:

1) There are a goodly number of strictly economic and commercial factors that seem to prevail over the more traditional artistic concerns.  The production of the signed, limited edition, "original print" has become big business.
2) The result of this business is that prices for the individual print are high, certainly higher than what could be reasonably expected for the end product of a printing press.
3) And the term "original print" is more than a tad suspect.

This last is, of course, is the subject of countless gallery floor or similar conversations often ending in heated arguments or diplomatic retreats into polite rhetoric. A party converted is rare in the extreme, and is most certainly the case when one has a considerable investment in limited editions and is asked to accept the proposition that The essence of printing is replication -- no more, no less.

An original cannot be a replica just as a replica cannot be an original. A printing press produces only replica, be it a single sheet lovingly produced by Gene Kloss in her Taos studio or five million sheets at the "TV Guide." The product can be superior art or trash, limited or virtually unlimited in numbers; it can be almost anything two dimensional under the sun, anything other than an "original." The word "original" should never be used with regard to prints.

"Finally if the collector want to acquire a print, the following question must be answered. Where is the original? Should it be hanging on someone's wall in Austin or San Francisco, your print can be considered nothing other than a reproduction."

Now we know that otherwise intelligent people refer to single "originals" and multiple "originals," the latter being prints, and that the practice of calling prints originals is pervasive. It is not recommended, however, to undertake a solo campaign to rid the language of this deception but merely to refrain from using it. If enough buyers wince politely when it is used by sellers, it will eventually pass from usage.

When was the last time you heard a rabbit skin called a "coney"?

In addition, there is the question of "limited" editions when the printing process is lithography on modern color presses. Knowledgeable opinion holds that tens, even hundreds of thousands of impressions can be made with the greatest fidelity. So why stop the presses at three hundred, five hundred, or some other small number of copies? A believable answer as to why the press was stopped at say three hundred copies is that we live in an age in American art when we are being victimized by purveyors of contrived scarcity?

The bizarre seventeenth century "tulipmania" is dwarfed by the machinations of the Franklin Mint and other limited edition hucksters.  In the forefront of these are the publishers of photo mechanical four-color lithographs.

If the reader interprets the above as being little more than quibbling over words, this writer will defer to him and grant in some measure that interpretation. Also, it should be understood that there is no intention to denigrate the print. It is a desirable product by the hands of some of the most skilled and imaginative artists at work today. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with somebody stepping forward and offering to sell these impressions in equally imaginative ways. If this leads to works being offered with some contrived "plus" such as a limited edition number, then so be it.

However, the potential buyer should be made aware that a price will be paid. It is this writer's contention that that price is being paid by serious art collectors in foregoing today's outstanding values in truly original art that is "original," meaning an art form where no complex answers are needed to explain what the word "original" means.  

Paintings and drawings of Western masters, near masters, and their talented pupils living and dead are available today at remarkably low prices to those who know what to look for, where it's available, and what it's worth.

In fact, we -- those of us who love to collect art -- have only begun to explore the breadth and depth of the truly original artistic treasure we possess in this country and to understand what within constitutes immense value.

Finally if the collector wants to acquire a print, the following question must be answered. Where is the original? Should it be hanging on someone's wall in Austin or San Francisco, your print can be considered nothing other than a reproduction. On the other hand, should it have been created as a wood block, metal plate or lithographic stone, the print is genuinely defined in that one word and needs no other adjectival modification. A lithograph that is made through the processes of photography and colorseparation is a picture of a picture, nothing more.

Ed: Excerpt from an unpublished 1982 manuscript titled "West is West"

Edited and submitted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, wife of the artist, who holds the copyright.
Copyright © 1999 Lonnie Pierson Dunbier


About the Author:

From 1982, Dr. Roger Dunbier (1934-1998) combined his professional economics training, research skills, and love of art to develop an easily accessed, 'all-in-one-place' repository of factual information so that buyers and sellers of American art could make decisions based on hard-core data rather than just marketing hype.  With ever-more sophisticated computers, programmed by Charles Lefebvre, his long-time associate, Dunbier built an artist record database, which by the time he died 16 years later, had 17,000 names linked to their respective auction prices, literature and biographies.  Today the result of his dedication lives on as the foundation of AskART.com, an internet site since 2000.  

Dunbier's innovation of computer systems began in 1963, when he pioneered computer mapping on what were then relatively primitive computers.  In 1967, he utilized concepts of 'arbitrage' and 'comparables' in designing the first real estate Multiple Listing System.  Its direct descendent remains in use by realtors across the United States, and he later applied the same underlying principles in building his artist database.  (right: Roger Dunbier, photo courtesy Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, derived from a larger image at http://tfaoi.org/am/16am/16am17.jpg)

Dunbier was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska.  His interest in American art was natural because his father, Augustus Dunbier, (1888-1977) was a prominent landscape, still life and portrait painter and art teacher, whose studio and classroom were in the family home.   Although Roger showed few 'right brained' skills, he did have other talents.  He graduated first in his class and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Omaha in 1955 with majors in economics and history.   He then received a Marshall Scholarship, which led to enrollment at Oxford University in England from 1955 to 1959.  During that time, he was on the Oxford University basketball and track teams, and was a member of the British National Basketball Team.  In 1961, he received a Doctorate of Philosophy, Economic Geography from Oxford.  His dissertation, The Sonoran Desert, Its Geography, Economy, and People, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 1960, and subsequently used as a text book for college geography courses.

After formal education, Dunbier held full-time professorial positions for several years at the University of Omaha and the University of California-Irvine.  He lived most of the remainder of his life in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and had economic-geography related jobs including CEO of his management consulting firm that prepared demographic and locational studies; and President of Metro Press, Inc., publisher of over 100 computer generated area directories for Metro Phoenix.  In 1991, he married Lonnie Pierson of Lincoln, Nebraska.

-- By Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2008


About this article's editor

Lonnie Pierson Dunbier of Scottsdale, Arizona and originally from Nebraska, married Dr. Roger Dunbier in 1991. From then, she worked full time on his artist database. After his death, she co-founded AskART.com, for which she was Research Director from 2000 to 2007. Ms. Dunbier is also the editor of all other excerpts from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting


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