You have found an old print and you are wondering if you have found a genuine Rembrandt. How can you be sure? Your print says painted by Rembrandt and it sure does look old. You do not want to mistreat your treasure because it may be worth a lot of money. These thoughts occur to most people when they encounter an old print in their attic or at a garage sale. Most people do not know what to do either at this point. The answer is to always bring your piece of art to a professional appraiser to have it valued.
The great masters in painting, drawing and engraving techniques such as Rembrandt were truly great and this has been recognized throughout the art world and general public. Such popularity has also meant that the masters were also heavily copied. They were not just copied in recent times but as far back as print copy came to flourish over 400 years ago in the 16th century.
A pupil of a great artist would copy his master's work as an exercise in attaining greatness themselves. Some of these early copies are valuable, if not to the same amount as the original pieces of art by a great master. However, the industrial age of the 19th century has seen the expansion of printing to sell to the masses and offer affordable prints for knowledge or decoration. The subjects addressed by industrial printing covered a wide variety of themes, most notably the works of art of famous artists.
Therefore there are a large number of prints that represent paintings, drawings and engravings of great artists. One should not be surprised to learn that hundreds of thousands of copies of the works of Rembrandt, Durer, Rubens, Van Dyck and later in the twenty century Matisse, Rodin and Picasso are available around the world. These works often appear of very fine quality and do mention the name of the artist from which the work has been copied, however they are only copies and were not the original intent of the great master. In other words the original artist did not intend for their work to be represented in the form of a mass-produced item and as such is worth very little.
There is a great deal of misrepresentation in the American art and antique world due in our opinion to a lack of regulation to define provenance and origin of works of art. This means that many copies of Rembrandt are sold as authentic Rembrandt works of art when in actuality they are but copies of little value.
In a nutshell most antique prints of great masters are copies. They may have been made over a hundred years ago and can be genuically classified as antiques, but a vast number of them are available still today and the fact that they were not original works of art made during or shortly after the life of the artist means that you should not get too excited. When in doubt take your art to an appraiser.