Welcome to the Collector's Corner, and you have asked a very astute and productive question. It is not easy to give a "perfect" and/or definitive answer . . . there's no set-in-stone standard(s) as there are for comics, baseball cards, etc. There is also not /universal agreement/ on which NGM issues are 'most valuable' and 'most important'.
Back in the day there was a "dean of National Geographic collecting" named Edwin Buxbaum. He wrote/published 4 "collector's" guides to NGM's + Society material in 1935, 1956, 1962, and 1971. In 1982 another gentleman --Roger Nathan-- published a most-excellent source for materials & publications. Since then, it's been adrift, if not a free-for-all, amongst collector's and enthusiasts as to both concurring assessments (opinions) as well as any one individual having all the information at-hand. Post-year 1998, it is nigh impossible to document and account for all, any, and every item produced by the Society, etc.
Note: there was also another good fellow by the name of Don Smith who also lovingly compiled Nat Geo info and lists, etc. He published in booklet form, several guides between about 1978-2000.
* Messieurs Buxbaum, Nathan, and Smith are also all now-deceased, sadly.
Having said all that, might I make a suggestion? It will at least give you a place to start . . .
Our friend and fellow 'Corner member Melvin De Vilbiss has written up 2 highly regarded & appreciated overviews and statistical surveys about NGM selling-buying-collecting (including proposed 'grading' standards). Here are 2 links to begin ---->
RE: guidelines to selling/buying NGM's - -
RE: 'grading standards'- -
Also, I am attaching a file to this response. It is the 1971 version of Buxbaum's "100 Best Special Numbers of the National Geographic Magazine". It gives you an idea of NGM's from 1911-1971 that were 'important', groundbreaking, and in-demand during those years and decades.
The first PDF attachment is a bare-bones copy of the 1970 list; the 2nd Word document attached is my modified version of the 1970 list - it has extra notations and/or footnotes for various issues.
Very cordially yours,
~ Scott Shier
Hi Nemanja, just wanted to give you my thoughts as a supplement to the information Scott has provided.
1. Once you get into NGS collecting, you'll realize there are so many different categories of NG collectibles. The NG Magazine is the most well known and the best place to start, but you may find yourself quickly drawn to other areas (NG books, ephemera, reprints, memorabilia, map indexes, etc.). Decide where you want to focus.
2. Decide on an overall budget or annual budget and stick to it. The range and value of NG collectibles could easily consume all your earnings and savings if you are not careful. Collecting can be addictive.
3. In general, only buy good quality, unless the item is extremely rare. Or at least buy within your financial constraints. You will always want to upgrade a low-quality item. Good quality items appreciate in value, low quality items much less so.
4. Think of collecting as an investment, not just a hobby. That way you won't regret your expenditure, any more than any other investment, if you make buy/sell decisions based on sound reasoning. Otherwise collecting can become an emotional rollercoaster. Your investment has potential capital growth and pays dividends in terms of the enjoyment you receive from your hobby. Understand that the capital growth in collectibles investments is very variable over time as it is subject to fashion.
5. Determine what your actual goal is. It might be 'a complete collection of NG magazines' for my family to inherit or for me to enjoy reading.
6. Decide on a realistic timeframe over which you want to achieve your goal. This will be very dependent on your available funds. Many NG collectors have one to three decade timeframes.
7. Really astute collectors are prepared to wait to complete a collection and will resist impulse buying. The flip side is that this might take forever and you may never achieve your goal.
8. If you are just interested in the NG magazine and aspire to have a complete collection, then just focus on buying magazines in the 1888-1916 (?) range of years. These are the rare issues that will retain their investment value. But they will be expensive, especially based on their condition. Magazines published in subsequent years will always be relatively easy to acquire and will not have appreciated in value quite as much. Magazine collections post-1960 are easy to find at modest prices. The older magazines will always appreciate in value as a) the magazines themselves degrade and b) many collections are lost when deceased estates unknowingly disperse the estate's assets.
9. Understand that there is a huge difference in collecting the NG Magazine to read for enjoyment and as a collectible investment. As an investment, you are unlikely to ever handle, let alone read, the early magazines as they are too fragile, so you'll read an electronic scanned version instead.
I'm sure there's more advice I could give that I wish I had received when I started collecting, but that's it for now.
All excellent points, Dale. Hope you are well !
Sorry for the late response.
Your advice has helped more then expected.
I started collecting NG magazine for the joy of owning a part of history and to be able to read and study the topics and compare their advance to the same/similar topics of today.
As you mentioned, budget is one of the main factors in collecting avocation. I am trying to spend as less as I can for the post-1960 issues and the market I have access to, fortunately, is allowing me. Unfortunately, the same market is low on pre-1960 issues, and for that reason I will have to take some time preparing for the "hunt".
This helped me a lot, as you slowed my hunger and showed me this will take quite some time.
As my personality is a little bit gluttonous, I found a list of the NG books, and it could be my new side quest, but for now, NG magazines will be my only.
I am grateful of Yours and Scott's advices and help.
Your welcome, Nemanja. Feel free to communicate anytime.