A Guide to Selling National Geographic Magazines

mdev1613
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A Guide to Selling National Geographic Magazines
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(Revised 13 February 2015)
{New for 2015 => Bound Volumes + Reprints (Bound and Individual)}
 
Background:
 
An old book collector once told me that for a book to be rare there had to be fewer than 1000 copies printed and to be scarce fewer than 10,000 copies printed.
 
In this guide I collect sales data, price and quality, for each National Geographic Magazine (NGM) sold on eBay that was published by the National Geographic Society (NGS) from October 1888 through December 1917. New for 2015 is sales data for bound volumes and a summary of reprint sales, both bound and individual. This historical data, combined with quantity published and quality definition should give the reader a basic understanding of the value for items being sold or purchased.
 
I’ve been collecting data since December 2008; this is my fourth revision since 2010. If you find the guide informative, please be kind enough to give me a thumbs-up at the top of the page.
 
I have two additional guides: 1) a proposed grading scheme for the NGM (the one I use); and 2) a guide on reprint versions. I am slowly working on a guide to the “annual index” published each year from 1891 through 2010 by the NGS.
 
I am a collector and though from time-to-time I’ll attempt to sell or trade extras in my inventory, I am not a dealer of NGMs.
 
I will be happy to answer any questions you may have about collecting or selling National Geographic Magazines (NGMs). Feel free to contact me through eBay or the National Geographic Collector’s Corner at any time.
 
Estate Sales (this section borrowed with permission from Dale Murphy - Dec 2010):
 
Having spent some significant part of a lifetime collecting the items, how does one later realize their true market value? Leaving them to one's estate is fine, but it is very unlikely that the inheritor of the estate will know the true worth of the collection. This leads many collectors to the situation you may now face.
 
But how do you sell such a collection? There are several options:
 
  1. Sell it off piecemeal. Here, eBay seems the best option to get to an international market but it is a potentially long and tedious process (years perhaps). It is difficult to know what you'd get. Many people buy on eBay expecting a bargain. You'll probably realize full value for the rarest items, but you must be judicious in the timing - for example, never sell something of real value during holiday seasons or at odd times of the day.
  2. Sell it as a whole to another collector. If you can find such a buyer, this is the ideal option. Unfortunately, this is also the least likely option. Experienced collectors will have already accrued their own substantial collections and will have the majority of what you want to sell. They will want to cherry-pick your collection. There will not be many inexperienced collectors who could afford to buy a complete collection or fully appreciate the true value of such a collection, but you never know.
  3. Sell it to a dealer. This is usually what happens with estate sales. Dealers need to make their own profit on such a deal and have their own substantial overheads. Most will probably offer you 10% to 30% of what the collection would be worth. But they will take the entire collection off your hands.
  4. Sell it on commission through a dealer. Not all dealers do this. If they do, their commission will vary, but 10% to 20% of the sale price would be the normal range. This could also take a long time to sell off the whole collection (1 to 2 years), but at least you don't have the personal hassle. This may be the best path to realize the best returns as dealers personally know most of the "serious" collectors.
  5. Put the whole collection up for auction through a reputable international auction house that deals with rarities.
 
Quantity + Quality = Demand, which yields “Value”:
 
It’s the old story of supply and demand. The fewer of an item that people want the greater the demand, hence the greater the value (or cost) to the people who want it. Recall the numbers for rare and scarce mentioned above while reviewing the Quantity information below.
 
Quantity:
 
The first National Geographic Magazine was published October 1888. This first year began with 165 members. The second year ended with 228 members. The Society generally published only a few extra magazines above the membership numbers, thus the rarity of the first eight years of publications known as the “red brick” issues.
By 1896 more than 1,200 copies per issue were published each month.
By 1905 more than 10,000 copies per issue were published each month beginning with the April issue.
By 1914 more than 285,000 copies per issue were published each month.
By 1925 more than 990,000 copies per issue were published each month.
1940 - 1.1 million
1950 - 1.9 million
1960 - 2.5 million
1970 - 6.8 million
1980 - 10 million +
 
There is most often an inverse correlation between quantity published and demand, i.e. the more published - the less the demand, but “quality” also influences the final demand.
 
Quality:
 
Generally speaking, good quality magazines are relatively easy to come by beginning with 1920, moderately difficult from 1907 to 1919, and increasingly difficult (and costly) as you slip back in years earlier than 1907.
 
There are some anomalies, e.g. 1904 issues are much more difficult to find, especially in good condition, than several of the earlier years.
 
I like to use Very Good (VG) as a benchmark {there exists no accepted standard grading system for NG magazines though I am trying to address this with my Grading Guide} and would describe this quality as: 
 
"There can be minor soiling, creasing (two minor tears) with moderate surface wear on the cover with moderate reflectivity and fading. The spine must be intact and complete, all material present, with moderate tears acceptable. Interior pages may have minor soiling and discoloration - but otherwise must be complete with all pages present (to include advertising)." 
 
VG is my benchmark but there exists an entire range of quality assessments that follow “comic book” appraisals and include: Damaged, Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine, Near Mint and Mint.
 
Remember, there is presently no accepted standard grading system for NGMs. I have “relearned” this fact many times while purchasing on line. You must be very specific with your listing description when selling or specific with your questions when buying or you will have difficulty with your transactions. Do your research!
 
When you consider the number of NGMs issued over more than 120 years of publication you can see how involved collecting becomes with the need to evaluate each individual magazine’s quality. 
 
Quantity + Quality = Demand. So what is its value?
 
Value:
 
Generally speaking, I have found the following decades (per issue) in the VG condition described above go for (sliding scale downward as you reach the end of the decade):
 
1910 - $34 {this beginning value for the decade edged up $6 in 2014} (with war years sometimes asking more)
1920 - $15 {this beginning value for the decade edged up $2 in 2014}
1930 - $10
1940 - $7.50 (with war years sometimes asking more)
1950 - $5
1960 - $2
1970 - $.50
 
Missing covers, except for the first 20 years or so, make the magazine nearly worthless whereas a magazine in better condition than the VG described above, even marginally so, may enhance the value immensely.
 
Go to eBay and do a search for “National Geographic Magazine.” You’ll find upwards of 20 thousand items listed. Where do your items fit in the scheme of things?
 
Buying or selling on eBay can have unseen hazards for the uninitiated but a cautious and determined approach for either selling or buying has its rewards.
 
I've seen a Jan 1921 go for $50 with the picture supplement included. I've seen Aug 1914 with map supplement go for over $100. But I've also seen a Fine August 1905 with map supplement go for $27. It’s all in the timing.
 
I acquired a beautiful 1907 leather bound complete year with all covers, ads, index and map for $202.50 on eBay. I had attempted to purchase a damaged bound 1907 just months prior to this from a book dealer. The front board was off the book; the binding was falling apart; the covers and ads (as is normally the practice with bound NGMs) were missing as well as the one map for the year and the index. The dealer was asking for $300 and would not negotiate. I’m glad I waited for the right eBay moment!
 
I’ve recorded a validated first issue, October 1888, selling for just over $6,000. A book dealer would have probably demanded $10,000. I’ve recorded an entire bound first two volumes, the first 9 issues complete with covers and maps, selling for just over $20,000. A book dealer would have asked twice that much.
 
Generally speaking, a book dealer will offer you far less to purchase your item than you can sell it for on eBay. He will also charge you far more than a like item you can purchase from eBay. Please keep in mind that dealers are in the business to make money.
 
Recorded eBay Sales:
 
1888-1907
 
Since February 2009, I’ve maintained a spreadsheet on eBay sales for the first 18 volumes, twenty years of NGMs. I have captured the “highest” three sales per issue per year (discarding lower priced sales). This spreadsheet allows me to average both the issue (month) and the entire year to develop a high-water mark for “my” purchases. Please note there exist many subtleties/variables too numerous to outline in this guide that may alter any given issue’s value.
 
Here are the eBay “high-three” averages for the first 20 years of NG magazines:
 
            As of 13 February 2015                                  Change per issue from the Dec 2013 revision of this guide
1888 - $5,670.22 (only one issue published)             no sales observed
1889 - $643.32                                                            no sales observed
1890 - no sales observed                                            no sales observed
1891 - $536.02                                                            (+$45.35)
1892 - $475.36                                                            (-$24.64) one sale observed
1893 - $755.00*                                                          (+$372.50)* one sale observed
1894 - $505.54*                                                          (+$74.55)*
1895 - $335.89                                                            (+$40.22)
1896 - $238.38                                                            (+$11.92)
1897 - $211.16                                                            (+$39.96)
1898 - $283.24                                                            (+$30.44)
1899 - $403.66                                                            (+$13.69)
1900 - $206.70                                                            (+$43.05)
1901 - $204.42                                                            (+$30.31)
1902 - $205.18                                                            (+$27.38)
1903 - $213.04                                                            (+$11.69)
1904 - $224.63                                                            (+$6.49)
1905 - $128.61                                                            (+$10.95)
1906 - $73.33                                                              (+$4.12)
1907 - $54.88                                                              (+$3.53)
 
*Includes one rare non-eBay sale.
 
Comment: One large collection going back into the red-brick issues contributed significantly to the vast majority of these increases.
 
1908-1917
 
In August 2012, I expanded my data collection of eBay sales to include the years 1908 through 1917 inclusive. As with the previous data collection I maintain “only” the highest three sales, discarding any lower sales data.
 
            As of 13 February 2015                                  Change per issue from the Dec 2013 revision of this guide
1908 – $49.91                                                             (+$15.08)
1909 - $44.38                                                              (+$6.55)
1910 – $33.88                                                             (+$6.09)
+1911 - $32.71                                                           (+$4.38)
1912 - $27.11                                                              (+$3.80)
*1913 - $68.45                                                            (+$18.99) (with April + supplement included)
           - $33.71                                                            (+$10.89) (with April + supplement stripped out)
1914 - $28.33                                                              (+$9.14)
1915 - $23.91                                                              (+$4.45)
1916 - $19.64                                                              (+$2.09)
1917 - $16.42                                                              (+$1.90)
 
+ Supplements for this year are difficult to find.
 
*A Good April 1913, with map supplement, has become hard to find. The average for the top three sales “just” for this month with supplement is $450.65.
 
Note 1: A complete set of individual issues, 1912-2006, sold for $850.00 after one year of being listed.
 
Note 2: A set of individual issues from July 1904 through 2012 (missing six issues prior to 1919) sold for $1,500.99 on 30 November 2012.
 
Note 3: A complete set of loose issues from 1904 through 2008 sold for $1,150.00 on 1 December 2012.
 
Supplemental Data:
 
In response to several inquiries as to why the April 1913 issue has become so costly as well as inquiries as to why it is difficult to find Very Good copies of the early to mid-teen years, I submit the following discussion.
 
Because of its size the April 1913 issue is very difficult to find with an intact binding. It is usually missing considerable material and is severely cracked and torn. Collectors generally look first to the binding. If it is completely intact (small tears are acceptable as long as all the material is present) then the issue has the "possibility" of being Very Good (VG) in assessment. No matter how good the rest of the issue is, without an intact binding, it can be assessed no better than Good (G).


This issue has a much sought after pictorial that was quite often cut out of the magazine, thus making a complete issue (with supplement) hard to find.


A more subjective reason for its scarcity comes to light with an understanding of what happened back in the early 1960's when the NGS reprinted the first 20 years of the National Geographic Magazine. Until that event, most collectors were content with starting their collection around 1920 (because the earlier issues were just too difficult and costly to obtain). After the NGS published the reprints, a complete collection (with reprints, of course) was now within the grasp of the average collector. 1000 loose reprints of the first 20 years were produced. There has been no actual accounting of the number of bound reprints (to the best of my knowledge) that were produced. The quantity of bound reprints put up for auction on eBay would indicate that perhaps well over 1000 bound volumes were produced.
 
Back to the question - what has the reprint production got to do with the April 1913 issue?
 
It wasn't until 1914 that publication reached 250K per issue. Not only was production low preceding 1914, near 100K, the raw materials shortage of the war years (WWI) destroyed many paper products. For those collectors now interested in completing their collections after the 1964 reprints were published, the 1908 through 1914's (especially in VG) instantly became difficult to find.
 
Putting all of this together you should see why a VG copy of April 1913 is in high demand.
 
My advice for collectors trying to expand back into these years is “take what you can find when it becomes available” then search for improvements/upgrades to your collection that may trickle along.
 
Bound Volume Sales (New for 2015):
 
I have been asked many times over the years for information regarding the value of bound volumes. There are too many variables for me to describe here such as type of binding, i.e. leather, half-leather, buckram, cloth, etc. and the condition of each. Most of these variables would be considered subjective, i.e. unique to the eye of the beholder.
 
There are some “content” criteria, however, that are fairly standard “objective” variables for determining value. What is strange about these criteria is the least common practice of binding NGM’s in the past has proven to be the most sought after format of binding in the present. That is, volumes bound with covers and ads tend to be more valuable than volumes with these items stripped out (which was the most common practice) such that the numerical sequence of pages forms a standard book format. Here are the (usual) formats from most to least valuable:
 
Format           Includes (all volume issues in numerical sequence) plus the following
 
1a.                   Covers, ads, supplements each bound within their issue; volume title page, contents listing, and index
1b.                   (Covers and ads stripped from each issue but included in sequence in the back of the bound volume), supplements, volume title page, contents listing, and index
2.                     Supplements, volume title page, contents listing, and index (no covers/ads – most common practice)
3.                     Supplements, volume title page and contents listing
4.                     Supplements only
5.                     Missing supplements (with or without volume title page, contents listing, and index)
 
From the beginning of my data collection in 2008 I have maintained data on “ the highest two” bound volume sales from 1888 through 1914. In August 2012 I began collecting data on the years 1915 through 1917.
 
Please review the notes below the table as my collection criteria can be a bit confusing, especially where it applies to ½ year of bound issues:
 
Volume           Sale 1              Date                Sale 2              Date
   1                   $20,155.00      *                      none
   2                      “                                           $8,400.00        4/6/12
   3                   $13,201.00      *                      $5,500.00        4/6/12
   4                     “                                            $5,000.00        8/18/11
   5                   $2,550.00        *                      $1,020.00        4/6/12
   6                     “                                            $1,530.00        4/6/12
   7                   $1,050.00        **                    $525.00           *
   8                   $1,044.00        **                    $522.00           *
   9                   $1,245.00        **                    $510.00           ?/?/13
  10                  $3,075.00        **                    $1,025.00        *
  11                  $662.00           **                    $331.00           *
  12                  $375.00           *                      $199.95+         10/27/13
  13                  $4,924.00        **                    $912.00           *
  14                  $355.00           *                      $102.50+         9/18/12
  15                  $481.00           *                      $255.00+         10/21/13
  16                  $357.00           *                      $208.05+         3/23/14
  17                  $195.00+         4/29/14            $150.00+         3/19/13
  18                  $202.50           *                      $180.00+         8/4/12
  19                  $150.00++      3/20/13            $122.50           *
  20                  $110.00+         2/22/14            $107.00           *
  21                  $69.00 Jan-Jun  1/11/14            $107.50           *
  22                  $105.00           *                      $75.00+           1/11/13
  23      #          $94.99             11/13/12          $79.99+           10/22/12
  24                  $149.99Jan-Jun 11/16/13         $95.00+Jan-Jun 12/15/13
  25                  $70.00             8/16/14            $56.25             3/30/13
  26                  ##                                            ##
  27                  $95.00             12/17/13          $50.00             5/13/13
  28                  ##                                            $50.00             “
  29                  $47.50             12/28/13          $32.95             6/20/13
  30                  $47.50             12/28/13          ##                                
  31                  $49.95              4/11/14           $25.00             4/10/13
  32                  ##                                            $25.00               “
 
* The auction of 1/18/10 was the most complete set of bound volumes I’ve observed. This auction included volumes 1 through 22 formatted as 1a or 1b above. Volumes 1 & 2; 3 & 4; 5 & 6 were each bound as one book. The winner of all three books (the first six volumes) subsequently de bound all three books and restored each individual issue (all 36 red brick issues).
 
** The winner of these volumes during the 1/18/10 auction subsequently resold these volumes (non-eBay sale) at the price shown.
 
+ Sold under format 2 above.
 
++ Sold under format 1a or 1b above but was not part of the 1/18/10 auction.
 
# There has been no sales observed under format 1a or 1b after this volume.
 
## I collect volume data by year even if the year had two published volumes as with 1914 through 1917. If a six month sale was sold that, multiplied by 2 (representing 12 issues), was greater than a full year sale listed in my data – I substituted the new sales data as a theoretical full year.
 
Note: A set of bound volumes from 1914 – 1931 sold for $500.00 on 5/8/13.
 
Reprint Sales (individual and bound volumes):
 
I have generally NOT maintained records for reprint sales. However, I have recorded large block sales of individual issues, complete bound (1888-1907) volume sets and unique sales.
 
Individual Reprints
 
A complete set of lose “Red Brick” reprints (first 36 issues) sold for $1,285.36 on 6 April 2014.
 
The first ten volumes of individual reprints were privately bound in Airplane leather binding and sold for $405 on 11 January 2013. (Note: This is an indicator that binding actually reduces the value of individual issues.)
 
Volume I, No’s 2 & 4, 1922 reprints are rare, i.e. only 1,000 were produced. Until 2013, these issues in VG condition generally brought over $150 each; especially since neither of these numbers in the “original,” as individual issues, has been sold on eBay while I’ve been keeping records. However, lately these issues have been selling in the $20 range either because the seller has grown weary of listing over and over again, or the seller truly doesn’t understand the real value of these reprints.
 
There is, unfortunately, an example of seller fraud perpetrated on a single unsuspecting buyer. Listed as an original, one of each Volume I, No 2 & 4 1922 reprints, were auctioned at $1,125.00 apiece. This is not even close to the value of an original, and about ten times the value of the 1922 reprints. Another collector and I (as I discovered a year or so later) both tried to convince the seller to correct his listing error to no avail. We both sent multiple messages to him and even tried to get eBay to intervene on the buyer’s behalf. The sale went through in spite of our efforts.
 
Know what you’re buying! Do your homework!
 
Bound Reprints
 
I’ll just list the few data points I’ve collected over the years (far from being comprehensive).
 
Unless specified, these sets were complete (1888-1907) with all supplements:
 
$2,000.00        ?? June 2009
$3,999.00        26 July 2011
$1,075.00        4 December 2011
$530.00           ?? ?? 2011       Volumes 1-8, w/o supplements (library set)
$975.00           5 September 2013       Volumes 1-8, w/supplements
$1,101.00        14 May 2014
$1,700.00        5 October 2014
 
Conclusion:
 
It’s all in the timing!
 
If you have patience and the time, and are reasonable, you can buy and sell at your price. If you’re in a hurry and need to sell or buy today you are more than likely NOT going to get what you want OR you are going to pay a premium.
 
I hope this helps! Good luck with your collections whether you're buying or selling!
 
Mel
 
P.S. It cost (in 2010) about $125 to ship 14 years worth of NG magazines via UPS - this did not include packing material costs. The Post Office will not ship (declared – hint! hint!) "magazines" via media mail because of their "advertisements."
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