Have You ever Heard of ACEO?

What are they Anyway?

What do the letters ACEO stand for?

The letters ACEO stand for Art Cards Editions and Originals, and quite simply they are tiny works of art.  Sometimes they are tiny originals and sometimes they are tiny prints, but to official be ACEO they need to meet some very specific criteria.  They need to be exactly  2.5 x 3.5 inches, which is the same size as the standard playing card, and also the same size as most baseball cards.  That last point about baseball cards is significant if you want to frame an ACEO, because they actually do make frames specifically for baseball cards!


I thought those were called ATCs?

Well, yes and no, the letters ATC stand for Artist Trading Cards and they are also miniatrue works of art measuring 2.5 x 3.5 inches… the only difference is that ACEOs are sold and ATCs are traded.  Therefore, if you see someone selling an ATC, they are mistaken, because the act of selling it automatically categorizes it as an ACEO.  Artists often trade ATCs with each other, while collectors who can’t afford to buy larger pieces often purchase ACEOs from artists.


So how did ACEOs and ATCs get Started?


ATC’s came first

In 1997 Swiss artist  M. Vänçi Stirnemann came up with the idea of Artist Trading Cards, as part of what he called a Collaborative Cultural Performance; an event which anybody was welcome to participate in, where the tiny works were first exhibited and then traded.  All types of art materials and techniques were welcome, but they had to stay with the dimensions of 2.5 x 3.5 inches.

He had been making his own cards for some time, and had begun exhibiting them in his bookshop and gallery at least a year before he organized the first collaborative event. His idea for the trading event was driven by the recognition that art should be accessible to the general populous, not limited to those the wealthy upper-crust of society.  He wanted people who wouldn’t feel comfortable, or necessarily be welcome in the upscale galleries to be able to come and view the work, and he wanted those same people to be able to try their hand at creating and exhibiting publicly.

Initially there was quite a trend of these events popping up all over Europe, and eventually all over the world.  While the trend has slowed down some, there are still events and trading sessions going on all over the world from time to time, they are still open to all artistic media and technique, and are still welcoming to all who want to participate.  The rules are generally simple, the work needs to be the right size, and the submitting artist’s usually must be willing to trade their work with another artist at the end.


ACEOs followed

ACEOs were invented on Ebay, and really, the are the same thing as ATCs, artists and collectors who had obtained ATCs started wanting to offer them for sell, and so the new name was created to designate that they were for sale rather than trade.  It really isn’t that much of a surprise, after all baseball cards were originally intended to be traded as well, and now they sell for, in some cases, over a million dollars.

Insect ACEOs
Two of the original watercolor ACEOs I painted.

More about ACEOs

Why would I want to buy an ACEO?

To Afford Original Artwork

Original artwork is pricey, with good reason.  As I detailed in an earlier post, materials cost money, space to sell costs money, and creation takes skill and TIME.  The benefit of buying ACEO is that since the size is so small, all of these things cost a lot less, and therefore so does the finished piece.

To Save Space

What if you really would like to have your own art collection, either of one favorite artist, or of all your favorites, but you just don’t live a place that has that much wall space?  Imagine being able to fit your entire collection in one or two moderately sized frames, or even in a photo album.

To show support for an artist you know.

Lets say your best friend is an artist, and you think they are super talented, you really would like to buy some of their work to encourage them, but you just don’t have the money.  If they create ACEOs, you will probably find that you can scrape together enough money to buy one, and you can frame it and display on your mantle at home or desk at work.  Whenever someone asks about it, you can tell them all about your artist friend and even give out a business card if you friend has them.  This will encourage your artist friend, and possibly generate more sales for them in the future.

As an investment

Imagine if the artist who created the ACEO you buy become as well know some day as Van Gogh is today?  How much do you think a tiny original by him would cost?  Keep in mind that his paintings sell for hundreds of millions, and his pencil sketches sell for hundreds of thousands, and sometimes even millions as well, even his letters to his brother are worth quiet a bit, just because they were written with his hand.  While there is no guarantee the artist you collect will be that famous, it could happen some day, imagine how you would feel if that happened and you knew you could have afforded an original by that artist, but you decided to go see a movie instead?  😉


Imagine if the artist of your ACEO someday becomes as famous as Van Gogh? What would that be worth? Click To Tweet

How much does an ACEO cost?

Who knows, maybe someday there might be some ACEOs selling for prices like that rival the sports card industry!  They haven’t gotten to that level of popularity yet though, perhaps they would have if they had been “a thing” when Van Gogh or Picasso were alive, but since they were so recently “invented”, there hasn’t been much time for them to develop that level of collectability.

The price right now depend on many things, such as the popularity of the artist, the medium used, and whether the ACEO is an “original” or an “edition”, originals are actual, hand created original artworks, while an “edition” is a print, then within the category of “editions” you have limited editions and open editions.  A limited edition means that the artist is only created a specified number of printed cards, traditionally a the smaller the number of prints in an edition, the higher the price.  They are numbered, with the number written as a fraction.  The numerator of the fraction shows which one you have, and the denominator shows the total number in existence.  The numbering will start with the numerator and denominator being equal, and the numerator will get smaller with each one sold.  For example, lets say an artist has 200 cards printed for a limited edition.  The first card he or she sells will be numbered 200/200, the next will be numbered 199/200, and so forth all the way down to 1/200.
Traditionally, the artist will charge a little more the closer you get to that last one.  Though some artists still sell all of the prints for the same price.

At this time, you can find ACEOs selling from prices as low as less than $1 up to several thousand dollars.  Again, there are many factors that influence that price.  Expect to pay more for an original than a print by the same artist, expect to pay more for a limited edition print than an open edition print by the same artist.  Expect to pay more for work by a better known artist than for an artist who is relatively unknown.  Also, expect that price will vary quite a bit no matter what, because some artists under-price their work because they doubt their talent, and other artists have inflated egos and over-price their work because they are sure that even though they are unknown now, some day they will be as well known as Picasso, most artist fall somewhere in between those two extremes though, and most of us fluctuate up and down on that scale from one day to the next.

A rough average for an original ACEO from what I’ve seen on Etsy is around $10 to $15, that average was found with the “extremely scientific” method of searching for “ACEO original” on etsy, sorting by price, and then going to the middle numbers of the search results.  There are a few problems with this method, one of which is that a lot of what comes up in the search results are NOT ACEO originals, but are rather prints, or ACEO frames, or blank cards to create ACEO’s on, but it still gives a rather rough idea of what to expect if you go looking to buy or sell or ACEO’s.