Monday, August 1, 2011

Treasure Between the Pages

QUESTION: I was given some old magazines, two of which are dated 1894?  How can I determine if they are of value?

ANSWER: Is it worth keeping old magazines? The answer to that question depends on several things. Just stockpiling old magazines doesn’t result in any significant gain unless you know what you’re doing. Perhaps a family member gave or left you some. Now what?

As with any other type of collectible, condition is critical. However, you could have a back issue that's over 100 years old and pristine but virtually worthless because there's nothing inside or on the cover that a collector would be interested in.

And like other collectibles, an old magazine is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it. Perhaps you have some that feature fairly recent notable events, but then you find that they’re only worth a fraction of what you thought. And if no one wants them, they’re worth nothing. Take the Saturday Evening Post, for instance. Most issues from the 1960s forward aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on–one reason the magazine didn’t last. About the only reason anyone collects later issues are for the covers by Norman Rockwell during the 1950s. For modest collectibility, you need to have issues from the 1930s and 1940s. And if you’re lucky enough to have an issue or two in good condition from the 1920s, then you’re talking big bucks.

To know exactly what you have, you’ll have to do some research. Find out what magazines are selling. Check eBay, of course, but don’t forget to check other sources, such as ephemera price guides and other Web sites belonging to dealers and collectors.

So what are collectors looking for in old magazines? The majority look not at the whole issue of a magazine but at certain parts. Some look for vintage magazines with covers by a famous artist. Did you know that Andrew Wyeth painted a Saturday Evening Post cover—and only one at that? Others look for unusual advertisements. They carefully remove the ad and sell it separately, matted and/or framed. A magazine full of unique advertisements could bring in more than issue, itself. A few look for first editions while others look for articles on specific topics.

Like most collectibles, the price of an old magazine is directly related to its age, condition, and the general demand for it. And with demand comes supply. As with newspapers, publishers print magazines in great quantity, especially today. The higher the number printed of a particular issue, the less it’s worth.

By far, the most popular magazine is LIFE. You see them everywhere—at garage sales, on tables at flea markets, and on counters in antique shops. They’re larger than most other magazines and have distinctive covers with the date printed on them in big type. But even famous issues, like the one for the Apollo Moon landing in 1969, only sell for a few dollars. Why? Because they flood the collectible magazine market.

Another topic that you’d think would be highly collectible is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. LIFE, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post all did extensive coverage of the event. Today, you’ll find mint copies of these issues selling for $25 or so at an ephemera show. That’s because T.V. shows on collecting and such have given everyone the impression that these are very valuable. So everyone who has them continues to hold on to them. In this case, it pays to research the event and the market for magazines reported it.

The two hottest collectible types of magazines continue to be those featuring stories, photos, and covers of movie stars and sports personalities. But even these don’t bring much more than $20 an issue—and that’s only if it’s in mint condition.

National Geographic gets the prize for the all-time worst magazine to hold on to. Again, too many people have held onto them which means the market for them is overloaded.

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