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Certificate of Authenticity

A certificate of authenticity (COA) originates from and is signed by the artist who created the art, or by the publisher of the art, a confirmed established dealer or agent of the artist.

A valid COA must contain specific details about the artwork such as what the medium is (etching, lithography, engraving, etc.), the exact title of the print, dimensions, details of the edition size if it is a limited edition, the number of artist proofs and the artist's signature.
Due to online auction sites where sellers are providing fake Certificates of Authenticity to market or sell their art works, COAs can sometimes be worthless and some even fraudulent. Unfortunately, most people believe that art with a COA is automatically genuine, but that wrong! To begin with, no laws govern who is or is not qualified to write certificates of authenticity except in rare instances. There is no standardization with respect to what types of statements, information or documentation a COA must include. In other words, anyone can write a COA whether they're qualified to or not. As if that's not bad enough, unscrupulous sellers sometimes forge official looking certificates of authenticity and use them to either sell outright fakes or to misrepresent existing works of art as being more important or valuable than they actually are. Bogus COA's have been issued for decades, so it is erroneous to assume that a 1950s or 1960s COA is genuine simply because it's old.

If a work of art supposedly comes with a certificate of authenticity,you should inspect it before making any purchase. Don't accept a seller's claims as true without seeing the evidence beforehand.

All certificates of authenticity must be original documents (not photocopies), hand-signed by the authenticator. Unscrupulous sellers use a legitimate certificate to forge a new one by photocopying or scanning the certificate itself, do some photoshop retouches and then use them to "authenticate" works of art illegally.

Any conditional statements found in a certificate of authenticity such as "in our considered opinion..." or "we believe that..." are warning signs that at best, that the art is only attributed to the artist (which is not a COA) and at worst, that the art may a forgery. The only valid COA is one stating conclusively that the art is by the artist whose signature it bears.

A valid certificate of authenticity should contain verifiable documented proof or evidence of why the art is genuine.
If you have any questions about a certificate of authenticity, contact the individual who authored it and get the answers BEFORE you buy the art. When the contact information on a certificate of authenticity is no longer valid or is out-of-date, contact a current authority or expert on the artist. If however, the certificate was authored by a legitimate authority on the artist (living or otherwise), it is very likely adequate proof that the art is genuine no matter how long ago it was written.

A statement that a work of art is genuine is NOT valid proof of authenticity unless made by an established and respected authority or the artist themselves. That authority's qualifications should be stated on the certificate, or be otherwise easily accessible and verifiable. In case contact information is inadequate and the signature is illegible or unidentifiable, a COA is not acceptable; the source of a COA must be traceable.
Certificates for art by famous artists such as Warhol, Picasso, Chagall, and Miro are often forged. All works of art as well as limited edition prints made by these and other well-known artists are well documented in books called Catalogue Raisonné. If a catalogue raisonne exists for an artist, the corresponding catalogue number or entry for the work of art in question MUST be noted on the certificate of authenticity.

It is also good to know who were the previous owners, the names of the dealers or galleries that have sold the art, information about auctions where the art was sold, or any other relevant information that reveals the art's history and authenticity.

If a certificate of authenticity does not satisfy all of the above requirements, it might be a forgery.

See a sample Certificate of Authenticity

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