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An old book collector once told me that for a book to be rare (generally speaking), there had to be fewer than 1000 copies printed. For a book to be scarce, there had to be fewer than 10,000 copies printed.


Throw in a bunch of decades with high demand and you “may” have the potential for high dollar value. The antithesis is, if it isn't at least scarce - it's probably not worth a lot (nor the time and effort to sell it). However, there is NOTHING written in stone in the world of book sales - so please take this with a grain of salt.


The first National Geographic Magazine was published October 1888.

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.

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


Quantity + Quality = Demand:


There is (usually) a direct correlation between quantity published and demand, i.e. the more published - the less the demand, but they are not necessarily the same.


Of course, quantity in large part helps determine value but a not-so-small part of the demand is related to quality. How do the two variables (quantity and quality) come to together to determine demand? The answer is complicated by our own likes and dislikes, i.e. the human equation, so I’ll provide a little perspective according to my equation.


Generally speaking, good condition 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 is 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 {note there exists no accepted standard grading system for NG magazines} and would describe this condition as: 


"Minor soiling, creasing (two minor tears) with moderate surface wear on the cover with moderate reflectivity and fading. The spine must be in tact and complete with moderate tears. Interior pages may have minor soiling and discoloration - but otherwise must be complete with all pages present (to include advertising)." 


When you consider the number of NG magazines represented by over 120 years of publication you begin to see how involved collecting becomes - especially when you evaluate individual magazine quality. 


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 - $25 (with war years sometimes asking more)

1920 - $15

1930 - $10

1940 - $7.50 (with war years sometimes asking more)

1950 - $5

1960 - $2

1970 - $.50


In short - Condition Matters (but by how much is “individually subjective”)!


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.


Putting It All Together:


To sum it all up (again): "It's all in the timing!"


You must find that buyer (perhaps even the “type” of buyer) that wants what you’re selling!


Go to eBay and do a search for National Geographic Magazine. You’ll find upwards of twenty thousand items listed. Where do your items fit in the scheme of things?


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 beautiful August 1905 with map supplement go for $27. 


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. 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 validated first issue, October 1888, go for just over $6,000. A book dealer would have probably demanded $10,000. I’ve seen an entire bound first two volumes, the first 9 issues, complete with covers, ads, and maps sell for just over $20,000. A book dealer would have asked twice that much.


For the last two years I’ve maintained a spreadsheet on eBay sales for the first 18 volumes, twenty years of National Geographic Magazines. I have captured the “highest” three sales per issue per year (I discard lower sales). This spreadsheet allows me to average both the issue (month) and the entire year to develop a high-water mark for “my” purchase. Please note there exist many subtleties/variables, i.e. extremely sought after, 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:


1888 - $5,505.34 (only one issue published)

1889 - $1,077.50

1890 – no sales observed

1891 - $860.00

1892 - no sales observed

1893 - $565.00

1894 - no sales observed

1895 - $302.50

1896 - $147.30

1897 - $125.25

1898 - $169.12

1899 - $348.02

1900 – $143.03

1901 - $155.46

1902 - $147.31

1903 - $133.53

1904 - $183.69

1905 – $106.70

1906 - $33.77

1907 - $27.62


Again, (always generally speaking) book dealers would have asked for nearly double these prices. For example, I acquired a beautiful leather bound complete 1907 year with all covers, ads, index and map for $202.50 on eBay. I 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 NG magazines) 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!




It goes back to what I’ve already stated: “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!




P.S. It costs about $125 to ship 14 years worth of NG magazines via UPS - and that does 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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