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Marcel Duchamp printing plate

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Posted 4 years ago


(3 items)

Hi all,
I would love to get some feedback on this printing plate I picked up at a garage sale. It's for a version of Marcel Duchamp's "Rotorelief" prints - Cerceaux. Everything corresponds exactly to the original print, including a track mark at the outer border as well as the name - Cerceaux. The size is 20cm, which is the same as the original print, and it sits on a back panel made out of some kind of hardwood. But - the original print does not have the signature"Marcel Duchamp" as part of the plate, as this one does; could this indicate that it was used for a publication (eg book)? I am trying to find out everything I can about this plate, it is a truly intriguing piece, and though the plan is to get it professionally authenticated, I would be thrilled to get some more input. Included are photos of he plate as well as an original print of one of the editions, this print can be found at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Unsolved Mystery

Help us close this case. Add your knowledge below.


  1. mcheconi mcheconi, 4 years ago
    There were five editions of the twelve Rotoreliefs (six double sided cardboard discs). These were conceived by Duchamp as playtoys he intended to sell. He patented it!

    The first edition was produced by Duchamp in 1935, at his studio in Paris (11, Rue Lerey), with a total of 500 unsigned, unnumbered copies (300 of them were lost during WWII) and were presented and put for sale at an inventions fair (Concours Lépine). It was a total flop.

    The second edition (1953) was produced by Enrico Donati, in New York, in a total of 1000 copies (600 were destroyed and is mentioned as "slightly different in manufacture" (?)

    The third edition, of 100 copies, was issued in Paris in 1959, produced by Daniel Spoerri (Editions MAT). This edition's Rotoreliefs have the disc name and the inscription "édition MAT, oeuvres d’art multipliées, marcel duchamp, rotorelief, No (copy number)/100". The Moderna Museet of Stockholm owns the copy 27/100 of this edition, and this is the one pictured in your second image, I believe.

    The fourth edition was issued in 1963 by Duchamp himself, in New York, and now we have a problem and something that can relate to your printing plate. Some authors say that this edition was issued with 5 copies only and others say there were 16 copies. hmmm. Now for the good news: this article, which is well documented and contains passages from Duchamp's letters and diaries, describes this 1963 edition as "16 sets supplied with a motorized wall-hanging unit, each disc signed, outer edge, in ink". I wonder if this "signed in ink" could mean that the signature was printed. Read the article here:

    The motorized wall-hanging unit was introduced in the 1959 edition of Rotoreliefs to allow the discs to be roteted without the need of a record turntable.

    You can see six of the Rotoreliefs in action here:

    The last edition was issued in 1965, in Milan, by Galleria Schwartz, with 150 signed (inititals in one disc) and numbered copies. It is mentioned that remaining sets of the 1953 edition were used in the production of this last series.

    I would dedicate myself entirely to contact an auction house (Christies sold some Rotoreliefs sets) or a Duchamp specialist to have this plate authenticated. By the prices of sets I saw as sold in auctions, this plate can reach extremely high prices.

    What an awesome find...unbelievable. May I ask you where (in which country) did you find it?
  2. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    mcheconi - thank you so much for the awesome information, I really appreciate it. It is a beyond intriguing piece, and I actually didn't see what it was before I brought it home. I found it here in the US, in a box in a barn at an estate sale. The man it belonged to, and whom had passed away, was a hobbyist of many traits - one being print making. He had probably about 100 or so old printing plates, mostly ad plates for newspaper prints, and also old copper photograph plates which are beautiful. He was said to have been an art director among other things. So back to the duchamp plate; I have sent out inquiries to a couple of auction houses, as well as knowledgable people, but has yet to get any response. The 1963 edition you mention is really interesting and two promising things about it; the signature was possibly part of the plate and it was produced here in the states. . I think the next step, as you say, is to spend the money and have a professional look at it. Again, thank you, and i'll make sure to keep you posted on any new developments on this if you like. It is indeed exciting.
  3. mcheconi mcheconi, 4 years ago
    I would love to know about it. Please keep me posted! This plate, if authenticated as an original Duchamp, can be a treasure. Good luck! And go check the man's other plates :D
  4. vetraio50 vetraio50, 4 years ago
    Great object and a great analysis mcheconi! Well done you!
  5. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    I can only agree with Vetraio - excellent research on this, and very helpful. I did come home with a whole lot of plates from this estate sale, even though this is obviously the one that really stands out. I'll intensify my research efforts this weekend. Thanks!
  6. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    -mcheconi, the duchamp plate photos have been sent to some additional select professional places for review; so we'll see if something turns up there. From what I understand, plates like this are supposed to be destroyed after a run(?) - to maintain the integrity of the edition - and the couple of auction houses i've been in contact with don't really know what to make of it; authentic or not.. But that could very well be a lack of interest due to their specific niche in the market place - iow, they don't deal with printing plates, and therefore are not interested. The search continues. Thanks all and more soon!
  7. mcheconi mcheconi, 4 years ago
    Hmm...I am surprised to know about auction houses not being interested. In this particular case, only one plate would not represent a threat to the value of the original sets. Anyway, I will research about the value of printing plates of well known works of art.
  8. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    I agree. if this is indeed an authentic plate for one of the 4 editions, then i'm sure there's an interest for it out there. I mean, how could there not be? :-). I'm waiting to hear back from Christie's for example, but it could take up to another month..
  9. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    So, reading, and learning more about this. When plates have been used for an edition they are not destroyed, per se, but rather 'scratched' to indicate that "the plate has been cancelled". Lets say that this plate would be from the New York edition, where there is a possibility of the use of a signed plate, it's really late in the game for Duchamp (as in him being a seasoned professional at this time), and I find it very hard to believe that he, or someone involved in the printmaking, would forget to "cancel the plate". However, what I don't know is HOW the plates were scratched/cancelled. This plate does have a pretty severe scratch through two of the outer bands. If one looks closely at the image - at 12 o'clock, there is a diagonal scratch. Looking at it in person, it can't be ruled out that this has been made intentionally - it is very sharp, deep, and one would have to really put some muscle in to it. Furthermore, it would be impossible to re-print this plate without that cut showing.

  10. mcheconi mcheconi, 4 years ago
    By knowing Duchamp's biography, nothing is impossible. Altough seasoned, he was not a model of organization and it is mentioned that Rotoreliefs sets from previous editions were used in later ones.
  11. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    Got the right person to contact at the Museum of Modern Art in Philadelphia, and awaiting response. The referrer at another department at the museum called it "a potentially very exciting find!". :-)
  12. mcheconi mcheconi, 4 years ago
    WOW! Now we are officially excited LOL
  13. mcheconi mcheconi, 4 years ago
    Hello bassebus, any news on this plate's history? Hope you are doing fine.
  14. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    Hi Mcheconi, good to hear from you. No definite news on the Duchamp plate, i'm afraid. I contacted a bunch of museums, but they just referred me to professional appraisers and I haven't gone that route yet. I actually got an email from Christie's regarding the art deco plate last night, saying that it was not of interest for them. There was one inquiry submitted for each plate, and I hope to get a separate answer for the Duchamp.

    I posted on the forum to get some thoughts from the printing community, and while they were skeptic as to any value of the plate, I got some nice info on the technical aspect of how it was used, as follows:

    "The plates are relief plates — the top surface is the printing surface. They would be printed by letterpress. The yellow-orange color of the surface is the acid resist, which is a photo-sensitive coating applied to the blank zinc plate, then exposed through a line negative (all solid black and clear film). The resist is then washed off — the exposed area, being hardened, does not wash off. The plate is then processed in an acid bath in a machine, and the acid eats away the unprotected metal, leaving the image as a raised surface. The signature you see was part of the photographic image in the negative.

    I suspect the prints you found were proofs of the plate from the photoengraver. The plates would probably have been part of a document like an exhibition catalog, printed on a high-speed flat-bed cylinder press. Since it’s a letterpress/relief process, the printing (that was the term used until photo-lithography became popular) would be termed “letterpress” now-a-days".

    In there, he is commenting on prints as well, but he must have thought that the printed rotorelief snapshot I attached was actually mine. I wish...

    It should, however, be made clear that the people at Briarpress look at it as just a plate, with no reflection of the name Marcel Duchamp being attached to it. They are more focused on old printing technology than on art aspect of it. So the search continues!

    Since I heard back from Christie's on the other plate, the Duchamp should be under review as well, which will give me an indication if it's worth pursuing further. Hope all is well with you and i'll keep you posted.
  15. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    Mcheconi, so nothing new really on this - Christie's are still doing there thing. Which I'd think is a good thing. Unless the specialist that got assigned to it is on vacation. :-). I did find this link from the museum of philadelphia which is interesting since they actually have a (completely different) Duchamp plate in their collection.

    On another note - I recently started researching another item I found at the same sale. I had a nagging feeling that I should look into it, even if it is old and rusty. Turns out it's a vintage Alfred Herbert Ltd (Edgwick, Coventry) ratchet style Arbor Press. I haven't found the exact model online yet, or even an Alfred Herbert one, but people are really in to these old presses and they sell for quite a bit on eBay and in auctions. It's the estate sale that keeps on giving! :-). I'll keep you posted when I know more about the plate. Be well.
  16. ho2cultcha ho2cultcha, 4 years ago
    many years ago, when i was 18-19, i found an intriguing sculpture signed 'M. Duchamp' and 1904, along w/ stickers from the school he was at at the time. duchamp was only 16 when he attended that school. i took a bunch of photos of it and sent them on to anne d'harnoncort - the then director of the philadelphia museum of art. she called me and said that she'd love to see it in person and could i come down to philadelphia w/ it right away. Pontus Hulton was there visiting and he had been a good friend of marcel and teeny duchamp. so i drove there from Portsmouth, nh w/ my 'duchamp'. i met w/ them for about an hour and then drove home. they weren't particularly friendly and i think that they thought i might have faked it myself because i knew quite a bit about duchamp from my own research. [i've been a big art history buff since i was very young] they weren't really sure about it though. Mr Hulton showed some photos of it to Teeny, who had no knowledge of it whatsoever. so, it continues to sit on the shelf in my parents' library. i hope that your plate ends up being a real treasure, but keep in mind that duchamp is bigger than big and a lot of his work was copied and faked in the 50s-70s. i'll bet he would have even approved faking his pieces, as he was always playing tricks on the art world - in order to expose the greed underlying so much of it. you can always write an interesting paper and call it the 'Return of the Reel'...

    sign me NVious of your very cool find - whether real or fake!!
  17. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    ho2cultcha, what a nice story and thanks for sharing! If possible, it would be great to see some pics of your sculpture on the forum. Have you ever been interested in exploring it further? As far as the plate, we'll see what information I end up with. I like "Return of the Wheel"... As you say, real or fake - they're all treasures. Just to research and get input from people from all over is an real treat in itself. More to follow, i'm sure.
  18. ho2cultcha ho2cultcha, 4 years ago
    maybe 'Weturn of the Wheel'?

    'Return of the Real' is the name given to one of the art theories proposed by duchamp late in his life.
  19. ho2cultcha ho2cultcha, 4 years ago
    i've already posted it here. Here is the link:
  20. bassebus bassebus, 4 years ago
    very nice indeed. If you ask me, i'd say it's authentic - no doubt about it. :-).
  21. gwjstubbs, 1 year ago
    Hi bassebus,
    Re. Marcel Duchamp's "Rotorelief" plate
    What a wonderful find. Do you still have this?

  22. bassebus bassebus, 1 year ago
    Thanks gwjstubbs, Thanks for the comment. Yes, still have the plate.

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