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A Guide to Selling National Geographic Magazines (Revised 10 Dec 2012) {added 10 years of data}

 

eBay http://reviews.ebay.com/A-Guide-to-Selling-National-Geographic-Maga...

 

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 for a book to be scarce there had to be fewer than 10,000 copies printed.

 

Given time 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 (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. Refer to the Background 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 a direct 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} 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 intact 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 issued over more than 120 years of publication you begin to see how involved collecting becomes - especially when you evaluate each individual magazine’s 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?

 

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. 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 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 when selling or specific with your questions when buying or you will have difficulty with your transactions. 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 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” 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 10 December 2012                                Change per issue from the Apr 2012 revision of this guide

1888 - $5,670.22 (only one issue published)              no sales observed

1889 - $653.71                                                            no sales observed

1890 - no sales observed                                            no sales observed

1891 - $490.67                                                            (-$9.86)

1892 - $500.00                                                            no sales observed

1893 - $382.50                                                            no sales observed

1894 - $466.32                                                            (-$33.98; only one new sale observed)

1895 - $295.67                                                            no sales observed

1896 - $219.96                                                            (+$9.21)

1897 - $171.66                                                            (+$8.24)

1898 - $252.04                                                            (+$30.60)

1899 - $386.63                                                            (-$.02)

1900 - $163.59                                                            (+$25.70)

1901 - $174.11                                                            (+$1.98)

1902 - $164.44                                                            (+$3.67)

1903 - $157.75                                                            (+$9.31)

1904 - $217.00                                                            (+$13.27)

1905 - $115.75                                                            (+$3.06)

1906 - $61.53                                                              (+$4.26)

1907 - $41.08                                                              (+$3.81)

 

New Data:

 

As of 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. The information listed below is “preliminary,” i.e. it takes one to two years of sales for VG or better quality magazines to populate the database. Sales to date are mostly of Good or worse condition with supplements usually missing.

 

To assist with interpreting this preliminary data I’ve included a Ratio = (# of VG or better magazines recorded for the year / Total # of magazines recorded for the year).

 

Year – Avg. Sales                                                       Ratio

1908 – $22.69                                                             9/32

1909 - $19.99                                                              12/33

1910 – $16.44                                                             2/35

1911 - $14.96                                                              1/36

1912 - $12.03                                                              3/36

*1913 - $32.05                                                            7/36 (with April + supplement included)

           - $14.41                                                            6/33 (with April + supplement stripped out)

1914 - $10.71                                                              3/36

1915 - $12.13                                                              8/36

1916 - $10.14                                                              14/36

1917 - $10.86                                                              7/33

 

*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 $226.14.

 

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!

 

Update on eBay sales:

 

Since April 2012 there have been two partial sales of magazines reaching back to 1896. Fewer than half of the sales broke into my top three eBay sales list with annual averages changing by less than $10 per issue for all but three years. The years 1906 through 1909 continue to experience an up tic in prices for even poorer quality magazines. It is my opinion that because these are the last of the older issues still fairly easy to obtain and averaging less than $100 per copy their yearly averages will continue rising as competition for them increases.

 

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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