Good news for the New Yorker: All 750 signed limited edition poster-size copies (22 by 28 inches) of its witty Dec. 10, 2001, "New Yorkistan" cover sold out in four days. The magazine responded to the great demand by releasing a new, smaller (18 by 22 inches) unlimited edition of the same image -- this time without the signatures.

Perhaps not such good news for the people who paid somewhat more for the limited-edition offset lithographs ($280 unframed, $395 framed) than those now snapping up the open edition ($240 unframed, $340 framed). Considering that both the paper and the mechanical process used are identical for both editions, the first group simply paid more with rather little to show for it.

"There's nothing illegal about it," said Andy Pillsbury, vice president of the Cartoon Bank, a division of the New Yorker that distributes reproductions of the magazine's cartoons, and he is right. The state of New York has a disclosure law, a consumer protection statute requiring those selling a graphic print from a limited edition to notify would-be collectors of certain points. These include the maximum number of signed or unsigned, numbered or unnumbered impressions in the edition; the maximum number of artist's, publisher's or other proofs outside the regular edition; and, finally, whether the master has been destroyed, effaced, altered, defaced or canceled after the current edition (so that other editions of the same image cannot be created).

The law does not prohibit publishers from printing more copies of the same image, and they might even call these later printings limited editions, if they print them at different sizes or in different colors, call one an American edition and the other a European edition or give them different numbering -- Roman numerals as opposed to Arabic, for instance.

"The phrase 'limited edition' has been much abused," said Ralph Lerner, a Manhattan attorney and co-author of "Art Law" (Practising Law Institute). A limited edition, according to Lerner, "means that the artist who signs a print of that edition affirms to the buyer that, one, there are and can only be a certain number of signed and numbered copies in the edition and, two, that there will never be more than that number of copies entering the market."

Additional copies would "dilute the fair market value of the buyer's print," since limiting the edition creates scarcity and justifies a higher price. Fourteen states, including Maryland, currently have print disclosure laws. All of them require sellers to indicate (1) the name of the artist, (2) the year when the printing plate was created and the edition printed, (3) the number of signed and numbered (or unsigned and unnumbered) prints that are in the edition, (4) the number of signed and numbered (or unsigned and unnumbered) proofs, and (5) the size of the edition.

Most states also stipulate that the seller disclose:

* the type of print (such as engraving, etching, lithograph, serigraph or photographic reproduction);

* whether the edition was created posthumously;

* if the printing plate had been used to create other editions of the same image in the past;

* if the artist physically signed the work;

* the name and address of the print publisher;

* if the edition is part of a series of editions;

* the status of printing plate (reworked, destroyed, on file);

* whether the print was ever published in a book or magazine.

"There is a huge market in so-called limited-edition art," said Christopher Addison, director of the Washington-based Addison/Ripley Gallery, adding that occasionally he has heard collectors complaining about buying a limited-edition print only to see the same image available elsewhere. He noted a "usurious concept" among some artists and print publishers, "where they think, 'I'm doing really well on this image; let me make some more to sell.' This certainly seems to flout the spirit of the law."

The District doesn't have a print disclosure law to flout and, even if it did, creating other editions (limited or otherwise) would probably not be outlawed. However, print collectors in other states increasingly are asking dealers for much the same kinds of information in writing as found in print disclosure states, and a growing number of print publishers are attaching certificates with this information to each work they run off, regardless of where the prints are sold.

California law requires the seller to provide a certificate of authenticity, attesting to these points -- without the certificate, the print may not be salable. If any of the information on the certificate is found to be erroneous, the seller is liable for three times the purchase price. The California certificate of authenticity must also indicate whether the publisher reserves the right to make any other limited or unlimited editions from the same image. "If you say it's a limited edition and then produce an open edition without having reserved the right to make another use of the image, you could be violating the statute," said Joshua Kaufman, a Washington-based lawyer who regularly works with artists and art dealers.

New York's statute does not have that requirement and it was was amended in 1991 to include cast sculpture priced at more than $1,500. The law does not cover photographic prints, however, and it is not uncommon for editions of photographs to be printed at different sizes (for example, 4 by 5 inches and 8 by 10) and on different papers (silver and platinum are common types), with the same image published in different ways but always sold as limited editions.

Clearly, no law protects collectors from every potential mishap in the buying of multiples, so consumers must be reliant on their ability to ask lots of questions and to receive answers in writing.