COA 2 Print example

An Old Master print that would commonly be accompanied by a COA

In Part I of this article on COAs, I discuss some of the basic attributes of a Certificate of Authenticity and highlighted some errors and omissions in one of the art market’s most common and dare I say beloved documents. Collectors like COAs and so do resellers. I like them as long as they are credible.

Here is the COA document that I was reviewing. It reads:

Certificate of Authenticity

The print is by Bartlett. Here framed is an old and original work and was published circa 1840. It is hand colored in the old style. It should be carefully preserved and valued as an original print.

Signed: Paul B., Charlottesville, VA

In Part I, I discussed the COA and the notion of it being described using the broad term of “print.” I commented on the many artists named Bartlett and posed the question, shouldn’t the artist be noted specifically since there are many artists named Bartlett in the history of art through the centuries.

To continue in a dissection of this COA, let’s look at the other text that helps authenticate the print in question.

“Here framed is an old and original work”:

Age, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. How do we define old? We all define it differently. For instance, my niece thinks I’m old. My mother disagrees. So, one person might consider the print old and another does not. To determine age, you must know who said that the print was old and when they said it was old. Age is relative.

And, in order for a Certificate of Authenticity to be credible, it should have been created at the same time that the work of art was created. In the case of this print, it was made in 1920. It was framed and given a COA sometime in the mid-20th Century. The reason for the circa 1940 creation of the certificate is to help market and sell the work. Using basic common sense, we have now determined that the work is older than the certificate. Therefore, since the certificate wasn’t created at the same time as the print, how can it be a validation of the print’s originality?

And lastly, an expert can tell the difference between an engraving and a color lithograph — just look for the consistent dotted pattern in the colored areas and you will know you have a machine produced lithograph and not a handmade engraving.

“And was published circa 1840”:

So, now the COA notes that this print was published. If it was published circa 1840 then that means the date is not 1920 as stated on the COA. If something is published, by definition that information or image was reproduced for distribution to a mass audience. That rules out the earlier notation on the COA that this piece is original. Originality is not the case even though the COA states it is an original above. The original work may have been produced circa (or about) 1840, but this print certainly wasn’t produced until the mechanization of the commercial color printing process came into vogue circa 1920.

“It is hand colored in the old style”:

This statement raises more interesting questions: How does a machine without the aid of hands actually hand color anything? Does hand colored mean that there is no use of any type of machine in the coloring process? We know that’s not true just by looking at the piece. Was the piece hand colored by the hand of an artist or by the hand of someone who is not an artist? That makes a big difference when establishing value. And here is a good trick, how does Bartlett hand color the print in 1940 if he was the person who produced the original in 1840? He would have to be more than 125 years old to do both.

“It should be carefully preserved and valued as an original print”:

This is getting comical now. Yes, it SHOULD be preserved and valued as an original print if it were an original print! The word “should” is the red flag. As if to say, you should believe this bogus certificate of authenticity by now.

“Signed, Paul B., Charlottesville, VA”:

This is the signature and location of the person and possibly his gallery who authenticated the piece and who prepared the COA. So, who is this person? Does he have a surname and if so, then why doesn’t he use it? What credentials does he have that make him a credible authenticator? Is he some noted art historian or the biographer of the artist or artists Bartlett? Is he just the seller who wouldn’t have any reason to state something negative about a work of art he is selling.

While some COAs can be informative, watch out for the ones that are only as good as the paper they are written on or those that are only useful for art marketing. Some COAs are legitimate documents associated with works of art but others like this example are not giving an art collector the information that he or she really needs.

Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide and appears on The Curse of Oak Island on History channel. Visit, or call (888) 431-1010.