Simply put, a reproduction is an copy made using the design, materials and production techniques of the original (historic) object - as closely as possible, given inevitable changes in materials and technology over time. A replica, on the other hand, is a copy produced utilizing designs, materials or techniques that diverge significantly from those of the original object.
"Huh," you say?
What's perplexing about this distinction is that such copies, if successfully executed, serve the same purpose: to stand-in for original objects that are either lost or not suitable for display due to their condition or environmental factors (such as light levels). Thus, for the observer, successful replicas and reproductions are essentially the same: they are facsimiles that serve to enhance a context, enrich an experience, or tell a story. For that matter, they are distinct from the more infamous term forgery - a copy that is made to be passed- off as the original for nefarious purposes.
|The Martin House library: a reproduction table and, in the background, a replica print.|
In furnishing the Martin House, the curator / conservators team has utilized both replicas and reproductions. The prime examples are: 1) replica Japanese ukiyo-e prints, and 2) reproduction dining and library tables. The tables are clearly in the realm of reproductions: they closely follow Frank Lloyd Wright's original designs, executed using the original materials and techniques. They function as the Martins' original tables did. On the other hand, the "Japanese prints" that now grace the walls and piers of the house are clearly replicas - color ("giclee") prints on Japanese paper, produced by sophisticated 21st century digital imaging and printing methods, rather than by 18th century woodblocks and vegetable-based inks. Why not show the original Japanese prints from the Martin collection? Because they are already badly faded, and highly susceptible to further deterioration from light exposure. Without scrutiny by the highly-trained eye, the replica prints are indiscernible from the originals, and serve the altruistic purpose of protecting the originals by allowing them to stay in storage.
Webster is of little assistance in keeping these terms straight; definitions of both replica and reproduction indicate an exact copy of an original. However, reproduction does carry the denotation of something produced again. Insert a hyphen - re-production - and it's even more clear: an object was produced at a point in time and now, it's re-produced from the same design, using the same materials and production methods (at least in Michele's definition).
If museum terminology could be copyrighted, Michele would have introduced a hot commodity. Barring that, I guess we can feel free to reproduce her definitions...or replicate them, as the case may be.