A Guide to Selling National Geographic Magazines

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(Revised 19 January 2018)
{Includes 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.

For 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. I include some non-eBay sales I’ve been made aware of for some of the rarest NGM’s. I also provide 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 seventh 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):
 
“Due to size limitations imposed by eBay, as well as the growth of this guide, I have had to edit out significant portions. To view the entire guide, please visit the National Geographic Collector’s Corner website and search using the exact title of this guide.”
 
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 +

Note: It may be of interest to the reader that NGM subscriptions dipped below the 5 million mark in the early 2000’s due in part to the “digital” world.

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 130 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 - $35 (with war years sometimes asking more)
1920 - $15
1930 - $10
1940 - $7.50 (with war years sometimes asking more)
1950 - $5
1960 - $2
1970 - $1

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” yearly averages for the first 20 years of NG magazines:

           As of 19 January 2018                                 Change per issue from the Dec 2016 revision of this guide
1888 - $5,670.22 (only one issue published)          no sales observed
1889 - $1,753.33#                                                   no sales observed
1890 - $1,525.83*                                                    (-$314.17) three original sales observed
1891 - $600.33*                                                       (+$19.71)
1892 - $1,842.25*                                                    ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3
1893 - $981.41*                                                       (-$74.42)
1894 - $419.67*                                                       (-$17.64)
1895 - $353.78                                                         (+$17.89)
1896 - $238.66                                                         ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3
1897 - $217.35                                                         ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3
1898 - $294.49                                                         ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3
1899 - $409.79                                                         (+$1.84)
1900 - $215.69                                                         (+$2.52)
1901 - $216.64                                                         ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3
1902 - $217.87                                                         ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3
1903 - $219.06                                                         ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3
1904 - $228.31                                                         ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3, for the second year
1905 - $133.46                                                         (+$0.87)
1906 - $84.23                                                           (+$1.39)
1907 - $62.70                                                           (+$0.53)

# The first observed eBay sale of an individual Volume 1, No. 4 for $10,000.00.

*Includes non-eBay sales of rare issues.

Comment: Lesser quality sales are being factored in reducing the per issue average for three of the oldest years not yet completely populated in my data, especially the year of 1890, which continues to severely adjust downward due to a single exceptional issue sale several years ago. My observations indicate sales have generally been sluggish and diminished in value as evidenced by 10 years showing no added sales, 5 years showing less than a positive $3 adjustment and the 3 years showing negative adjustments mentioned above.

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 19 January 2018                                Change per issue from the Dec 2016 revision of this guide
1908 – $50.27                                                         ($0.00) no sales qualified for top 3
1909 - $47.08                                                          (+$0.51)
1910 – $34.98                                                         (+$0.54)
+1911 - $37.02                                                        (+$3.31)
1912 - $34.93                                                          (+$0.98)
*1913 - $68.83                                                         (+$0.11) (with April + supplement included)
           - $34.11                                                        (+$0. 11) (with April + supplement stripped out)
1914 - $29.17                                                          (+$0.42)
1915 - $24.69                                                          (+$0.35)
1916 - $20.37                                                          (+$0.17)
1917 - $17.56                                                          (+$0.50)

+ Supplements for this year are difficult to find (4 of 12 issues w/supplements qualified for my top 3 w/o their supplement – one worse than last year).

*A Good April 1913, with map supplement, has become hard to find. The average for the top 3 sales “just” for this month with supplement remained at $450.65, i.e. no sales broke into the top 3 for this issue for the fourth year in a row.

Notes:
      a. There were only 31 additions (7 for the year 1917 alone) for this 12 month revision out of 359 possible entries to my top 3 eBay sales for the years 1908 through 1917 inclusive.
      b. A complete set of individual issues, 1914-1959, sold for $495 on 5 Jan 2017.
      c. 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.
      d. A complete set of loose issues from 1904 through 2008 sold for $1,150.00 on 1 December 2012.
      e. A set of loose issues from 1910 through 2009 sold for $500.00 on 3 Mar 2016. (Timing!)

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.
 
“Due to size limitations imposed by eBay, as well as the growth of this guide, I have had to edit out significant portions. To view the entire guide, please visit the National Geographic Collector’s Corner website and search using the exact title of this guide.”.

Bound Volume Sales:
 
“Due to size limitations imposed by eBay, as well as the growth of this guide, I have had to edit out significant portions. To view the entire guide, please visit the National Geographic Collector’s Corner website and search using the exact title of this guide.”
 
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
 
“Due to size limitations imposed by eBay, as well as the growth of this guide, I have had to edit out significant portions. To view the entire guide, please visit the National Geographic Collector’s Corner website and search using the exact title of this guide.”


 Bound Reprints
 
“Due to size limitations imposed by eBay, as well as the growth of this guide, I have had to edit out significant portions. To view the entire guide, please visit the National Geographic Collector’s Corner website and search using the exact title of this guide.”
 
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."

P.P.S. In November 2016, it cost $140 to ship 55 bound volumes by UPS.

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