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A Guide to Selling National Geographic Magazines (Revised 2 May 2011)



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 a bunch of decades into the mix 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.

Estate Sales (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. The most important problem you’ll have to resolve is finding the people crazy enough to collect the NG magazine. But since I’m one of the afflicted I am really not qualified to explain this problem to you so I’ll stick to the “demand” problem. Refer to the Background above while reviewing the Quantity information below.


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

There is most often a direct correlation between quantity published and demand, i.e. the more published - the less the demand, but “quality” has a way of influencing the final demand.


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 {note there exists no accepted standard grading system for NG magazines} and would describe this quality 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.

Once you have combined the quantity published with the quality of the magazine you now have a defined product to offer to your buyer. So what is its 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 - $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

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.

As I have stated, VG is my benchmark. There exists an entire range of quality assessments that include: Damaged, Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine, Near Mint and Mint. These assessments, that I use, follow an accepted standard for “comic book” appraisals. Remember, there is no accepted standard grading system for National Geographic Magazines. I have “relearned” this fact many times while purchasing on line. You must be very specific with your listing description or you will have difficulty with your sales. Do your research!

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.

Since February 2009, 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 (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” purchase. 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 2 May 2011                              Change per issue from the Dec 2010 revision of this guide
1888 - $5,505.34 (only one issue published)        no additional sales observed
1889 - $653.71                                                 (-$423.79)
1890 – no sales observed                                  no sales observed
1891 - $504.09                                                 (-$355.91)
1892 - no sales observed                                   no sales observed
1893 - $565.00                                                  no additional sales observed
1894 - $200.00                                                  (+$200.00; only one sale observed)
1895 - $267.30                                                  (-$35.20)
1896 - $192.53                                                  (+$45.23)
1897 - $137.77                                                  (+$12.52)
1898 - $159.79                                                  (-$9.33)
1899 - $326.81                                                  (-$21.21)
1900 – $131.77                                                 (-$11.26)
1901 - $160.31                                                  (+$4.85)
1902 - $145.33                                                  (-$1.98)
1903 - $133.99                                                  (+$.46)
1904 - $186.03                                                  (+2.34)
1905 – $106.36                                                  (-$.34)
1906 - $44.54                                                     (+$10.77)
1907 - $33.91                                                     (+$6.29)

Again, (always generally speaking) book dealers would have asked for nearly double these prices. For example, 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 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’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 - this 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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SUPERB JOB in compiling and writing all that Mel !


and I am glad Dale was able and gracious in helping you out.



- Scott

Thanks Scott,

Like I wrote, I'm one of the afflicted. I keep tabs in pencil on my spreadsheet. When it gets to the point I have trouble reading it, I update it and make changes to this guide (and its companion on eBay).


Some factoids collectors like you might be interested in (mostly my opinion while watching eBay sales since 2008):


Note: My spreadsheet includes only sales on originals (with noted exceptions below) from 1888 thru 1907.


There have been many, many sales of NG issues that have NOT been added to my spreadsheet, i.e. they do not break into the top three highest sales. Observation - prices are edging down!


There has been a rush (or rash) of new eBayers ("could" also mean new collectors - but not necessarily) that have "bid up" the prices on the 1906 and 1907 issues. Observation - the more affordable of the first 20 years of NG publications are being scarfed up at higher than normal prices. Second Observation - this type of bidding has NOT occurred to the 1905 (first of the $100+/issue magazines) and older.


Data Points:

1) Beginning with 1902 thru 1907, there is but one month (July 1905 with two) that three sales of a given issue have NOT been observed since February 2009.

2) Beginning with Vol VI, No 8 (April 1895), there are only two issues (June & September 1900) that NO sales have been observed at all.

3) The top five sales (price) are Vol I, No 1 (2 @) at $6,160.67 & $4,850.00; Vol 10, No 3 at $1,376.01; Vol I, No 3 at $1,350.00 and finally (one of the most incredible sales I've observed) a 1922 reprint of Vol I, No 2 and Vol I, No 4 where they each sold for $1,125.00. I say incredible because these 1922 reprints can normally be purchased in Very Good condition for less than $150.00 each.


Hope you enjoy this minutia...





Hi Mel,



Yes I had one of the 1922 reprints, but I sold (for no good reason) for $75. I already had the 1964 reprint of the same issue, so I was purging "duplicates".


In hindsight, I wish I had kept it just as a sample of the those limited 1922 reprints.



- Scott S.

Hi Mel,

I remember that eBay sale of the two 1922 reprints. It was easy to identify that these were the 1922 reprints from the photos. I sent two messages to the seller to alert them that these were reprints but was ignored. This was genuinely a case of 'buyer beware'.




Yes indeed! I felt sorry for the buyer.

New subject:

As this is an old post, I hope to revise the guide within the next couple of weeks and create a new thread.

Comments are always welcomed, especially on the accuracy of the details.




Great job Melvin.

Having purchased some old and vintage NGM online, I confirm that your stats are till up to date.

e.g. a 1906 issue sold at 115$, a 1920 issue at 25$, several ones from 1950-70 sold between 2-5$ per issue.

Of course I only purchase issues in VG to excellent state (without spots, decoloration or tear) and which spine is also in excellent state.

In fact charges to send them overseas cost me much that the magazines !


Thank you for the feedback Thierry.

I revise the data each December. By request, I'll be including bound issues in my next revision.

This is the latest version:



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