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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