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Collecting Old Magazines

Are old magazines valuable collectibles or simply worthless dust catchers?


President Richard Nixon on the Cover of The Saturday Evening Post

President Richard Nixon on the Cover of The Saturday Evening Post

- Pamela Y. Wiggins
Did you know the first American magazine was published way back in 1741? The General Magazine, co-published by Benjamin Franklin, lasted just six issues.

Even though that first magazine didn't stay around long, the concept certainly did. There are literally thousands of magazine titles scattered about newsstands each month and this trend has lasted for decades.

With all this publishing going on, can a magazine ever really be considered collectible? Well, the answer is yes and no. Some magazines are highly collectible; others don't do much more than collect dust.

Which Magazines are “Collectible?”

Maybe you have a few magazines saved from the early 1960s, and they just happen to relate to President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Now that some time has passed, you wonder whether any of these Life, Look and Post issues covering similar topics might be valuable.

Although these magazines certainly fit into an interesting topical category, and one that remains quite controversial, most of them would probably sell for only $25-50 in excellent to mint condition through a paper collectibles shop or at a specialty show. If you're thinking that sounds rather low, consider a couple of factors before drawing a conclusion.

First, these magazines cover a topic that shocked the world. It stands to reason that many, many people saved them so they're not going to be extremely rare or valuable at this point. Secondly, as more and more people become aware of the value of collectibles through television shows about pawning, picking and collecting in general, the chances that these will be tossed narrows considerably so many remain in the marketplace.

This is true for many historical events, and applies to saving newspapers as well. The election of President Obama comes to mind as one in the more recent past. So many people saved periodicals during this time, they might have sentimental value but they may never be worth much monetarily. There are some exceptions, however, so it’s wise to research each historical magazine individually to rule out a rarity before determining whether or not an item is highly collectible.

Which Magazines are Valuable?

Most any periodical can have some value depending on how many people want it, and there are far more collectors of sports materials and movie star items than hard news buffs now days.

To those who gather sports memorabilia, finding a copy of the first Sports Illustrated magazine published in 1954 can be a real treasure since they easily retail for thousands in excellent to mint condition.

Most copies, however, even those from other years during the '50s, don't bring more than $20 in today's market. Popular sports figures emblazoned on a cover can fetch a little more. Magazines featuring Muhammad Ali, for instance, can be worth a little more depending on the edition.

Movie star fans ferret out magazines presenting their favorite stars on the front, too. Notables such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe usually bring from $25-50 or more whether it's on older Look, Life or a specialty movie magazine.

Some can be worth much more though, so consulting a price guide on paper collectibles or doing some research online is a good idea before selling a collection. For example, even a certain Post magazine from the '60s covering the Beatles can be worth as much as $40 or more.

What are Magazine Covers and Ads Worth?

“Golden Age” illustrators such as Harrison Fisher and Charles Dana Gibson drew beautiful covers that graced a number of magazines at the turn of the last century. These push many magazines, along with the Saturday Evening Post illustrations of Norman Rockwell and others drawn by well-known artists, into high dollar territory. Many eager decorators and collectors will pay $50-300 for a magazine cover alone if a noteworthy artist’s signature accompanies the cover art.

Removing the advertisements from magazines and selling them separately can be more profitable than keeping them whole in some instances. Collectors decorate their homes with ads featuring everything imaginable from automobiles no longer in production to popular food products depicted in vintage packaging. The prices on these single ad pages can often bring as much as an entire magazine when marketed to the right person in the right venue.

Other people ferret out older magazines for research, and this includes collectors. Those interested vintage clothing and jewelry often employ fashion magazines, especially Vogue editions from the 1940s and ‘50s, to learn about the styles and designers of yesteryear. Many fashionable periodicals from the '60s on back currently sell in the $25-100 range.

Which Magazines are Dust Collectors?

When it comes to those dust collectors, if you're thinking the likes of National Geographic you're right on the money. Although this publication remains popular and noteworthy, especially in terms of its photography, there are just far too many lying around basements and stored away in closets to be worth much. But there is an exception…

If you've got a few National Geographic issues from the '50s and '60s stacked up in the garage, check the back covers for Coca-Cola advertisements. Collectors will pay for those older Coke ads, especially the ones depicting Santa Claus in an endearing pose.

How Will the Digital Age Impact the Collectability of Magazines?

With digital publishing still being a relatively new concept, it remains to be seen how this medium will affect magazines. However, if it goes the way of albums and phonographs transcending through the decades to MP3s and portable music players, then magazine collecting will likely increase over time. With an increase in demand and dwindling supplies we can anticipate a cycle of rising prices.

Additionally, given the fragile nature of paper and magazines being periodicals that were really never meant to be saved, fewer and fewer of the older examples will survive as time passes. So, if you have a favorite magazine you’ve kept for sentimental reasons, hold on to it for a while longer. As unlikely as it seemed 50 years ago when that issue was hot off the press, print-based magazines may actually be a thing of the past one day and your speculation just might pay off.

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