When buying anything, the product should match the label - and this is no different in the world of art. As objects imbued with intangible value, gauging where a work of art began and where it’s been is part of the product. 

Enter the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) and Letter of Provenance (LOP). While these documents perform similar roles, they fundamentally differ. Here, we will pare back any myths and explain what, why and how these documents come into being.  

  

 
John Olsen - 'Outcamp'
  
 

What is a Certificate of Authenticity (COA)?

A COA certifies that the artist attributed to a work of art is the genuine creator. Ideally it will issued by either the artist or the artist’s close authorised representative or publisher. Information about the provenance of the work may also be included. Some artists include them as part of their practice, many however, do not.


When to Expect a COA

It may surprise you, but COAs are relatively new to Australia’s art market. In fact, they only came into prominence throughout the early 2000s via the indigenous art market. Providing a COA as an accompaniment to an original work of art is still not a widespread practice for contemporary Australian artists.

Typically, your sales receipt from a respected gallery or dealer is your assurance of authenticity, so make sure you file it away as part of documenting your art collection.

 

What is a Letter of Provenance (LOP)?

As well as endorsing the authenticity of an artwork, a LOP describes its history of ownership. This document may be more relevant and interesting than a COA. Plus, as the work has passed through credible dealers and owners, collectors can comfortably be assured of authenticity.

LOPs can also add value to an artwork. Through delineating a work’s legacy, new qualities emerge. Artworks with formidable, unusual or glamorous provenances have an extra allure. And besides, collectors know there is a curious pleasure to uncovering who else has cared for your work of art.

 

What to look out for in your LOP

LOPs are valued when they are created by respected professionals, experienced specialists and family members of the artist. They should include a list of the work’s previous exhibitors and owners, as well as the contact information of the document’s creator. Sometimes, LOPs will also cite where the work has been discussed or published.

 

Both LOPs and COAs are useful for documenting your collection and for valuation purposes. They can also add depth to an acquisition. Always remember however, the credibility of both a COA and LOP depends on the credibility of its creator.

We provide LOPs with all purchases of original artworks and COAs where available. One of our most cherished responsibilities, is to faithfully capture an object’s journey through the Letter of Provenance. It is after all, among the best ways to track a work's evolving story. 

 

To find out more about documenting your fine art, don’t hesitate to contact us.