Unloved Antiques: National Geographic Magazines

Even in pristine condition, a stack of old National Geographic magazines aren’t worth that much.

That is unless you have one signed on the cover by a famous personality, such Buzz Aldrin or Sir Edmund Hillary, which could net you $250 or so.

The next item in this series of unloved antiques is Post-World War Two National Geographic magazines. National Geographic is an Icon and is the official journal of the National Geographic Society, formed in 1888.

The magazine was a real breakthrough in marketing, making dry topics such as anthropology, geography and science interesting with the use of large illustrations and brilliant photography. The magazine always maintained the highest-quality photography available at the time, even featuring color photography as soon as it was available during the early 20th century. The magazine now is printed in 34 languages and distributed world-wide.

The problem with National Geographic magazines is that they’ve been deemed such a high-quality publication by people who have subscribed to them for years. And many appear to have had a very hard time parting with them. We often 20 to 40 years worth of complete inventories of National Geographics at estate sales stashed in the attic or library—most in almost new condition, likely read only once and stored away. Some subscribers went as far as having their copies of the National Geographic bound as books much like encyclopedia.

This tendency for many, many people to accumulate and collect these magazines brings an equation I’ve mentioned in earlier articles to bear: Rarity + Demand = High Value. In the case of mid-20th-century National Geographic magazines, they fit the reverse of this equation: Large Supply + Minimal Demand = Low Value. As this magazine was published in large numbers, today only the earliest of them (circa 1888-1915) are worth looking into. The post-World War Two issues (1945 and later) that most of us are familiar with often sell in box lots of 150 or more at auction for less than $30. Some sell for even less, as one particular collection, containing more than 500 issues from the late 1930s to 2002, sold for less than $10.

There are exceptions to this, though. Some relatively modern issues of National Geographic with a cover shot of a famous person, such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon that have been autographed, sell at a premium. Examples of the December 1969 Moon Landing issue signed by Aldrin have sold for $250. Examples depicting Sir Edmund Hillary (first to climb Mount Everest) with his signature have sold in the $60-$250 range.

Previous “Unloved Antiques” articles:

Unloved Antiques: ‘Limited Edition’ Collectors Plates
Unloved Antiques: Singer Sewing Machines
Unloved Antiques: Decorator Prints
Unloved Antiques: Commemorative Whiskey Decanters
Unloved Antiques: ‘Bronze’ Flatware
Unloved Antiques: 1847 Rogers Brothers Flatware
Unloved Antiques: Hummel Knockoffs

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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  • julian

    i found a collection of national geographic magazines in my attic starting from 1915. I want to know the price to sell them.

  • Mike Wilcox

    As mentioned in the article there is very little demand for Old National Geographic magazines. As also mentioned, some issues dealing with historic events will sell for more than others and you’d need to go through the collection and sort them from the more common ones, so there is no overall value we could suggest. What you could do is check current sales on Ebay for magazines of the same vintage as yours to get a general idea of value. If you have some issues that appear to be more valuable than others I’d suggest using our “Ask the Worthologist” service for a detailed valuation report.

  • The issue with publications is that they have been considered such a high-quality book by people who have decided upon them for decades and they have very little demand, and it is very hard to found out who demands such kinds of publications..

    • Mike Wilcox

      There are collectors for just about anything it seems. Anytime I’m asked about trying to sell such items my first response is to find a collectors group that that type of item and sell within that group of collectors. Quite often all one has to is type ( fill in the blank) _________ Collectors in any major search engine to find them.

  • Tom Carrier

    As a vexillologist (flags and seals) and Worthologist, the National Geo’s may not be particularly valuable as a group, but certain of the flag charts are valuable individually.

    The October 1917 Flag issue, for example, has about 1400 illustrations of flags of that era, many countries of which are no longer extant. A lot of the flag designs for countries have changed over the years, too.

    Some of the early flag charts alone, whether in Nat Geo, old encyclopedias or dictionaries can bring from a few dollars to near $100 depending on age or the illustrations themselves.

    To flag collectors, particularly, these tell a great history of the use of national flags, but other similar charts over the years produced by National Geo also have value to different collector groups, too.

    Find the old Nat Geo’s and discover the charts and maps as items to collect, too.

    Tom Carrier

  • Hi we have a National Geographic December 1969 Issue in Excellent to Near Mint condition with the record inside and attached.

    We are interested in the value and what we could sell it for to a collector.

    Thank you very much

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