Had a couple of basic questions re starting my collection:
1. I noticed the slip cases the Society provides only go back to about 1950. They have unmarked slipcases, is this my only option for the prior to 1950 magazines?
2. Noticed a number of bound volumes for older issues. What are the pros/cons for the bound volumes vs the loose magazines? Are all teh bound volumes published by the Society?
1) If you wish to maintain the same "décor" as with your 1950 and newer slip cases the answer is yes it's your only option. There were other styles of slip cases produced years ago, and they can still be located from time-to-time, but their style is considerably different than the leather look of the present day NGS slip cases.
A suggestion, as I have done, is to purchase a relatively inexpensive "Brother" label maker. I use a gold letter, black background label on the "unlabeled" NGS leather slip cases. I find this is the most flexible as the older issues (especially the '50's and some 20's) are much thicker and in some cases only four issues will fit in the "unlabeled" slip cases.
You could, of course, purchase a large number of the "1950" labeled slip cases to use for these older issues and simply re label them. But then, when you got back to the 30's and those earlier than 1910 you'd find yourself back in the "it doesn't fit" category, i.e. the slip cases will actually hold many more than six issues allowing them to bend in storage (if the extra space is not compensated) and easily fall out when pulling the slip case off the shelf.
2a) Bound volumes are not as collectible (valuable) as the equivalent loose issues, i.e. a full year of 12 issues versus one or two books of bound issues for the same year - but they are easier to collect than the loose issues, particularly in the years "older" than 1920. Also, the binding process "usually" removed the covers and ads, so the magazines were bound incomplete - but sequentially numbered as if they were a book. The value of the bound volume increases if the covers and ads were included in the binding process.
Additionally, the binding process was incomplete if the Title Page, Contents, List of Illustrations and Index were not included. These items were provided as separate pamphlets, usually at request by members only, and often times not included in the binding process.
Then you have the supplements - again, often omitted at binding time.
Finally - the most desirable bound volume would be one that includes the Title Page, Contents, List of Illustrations (usually placed in the front) along with all covers and ad pages, followed by the Index in the back "and" includes all of the supplements issued with the original magazines.
2b) I discovered this past year that in-fact the NGS did bind and offer for sale volumes as recently as the 1930's. I have no way of knowing the numbers of and quantity within these offers and am not aware of the style used by the NGS.
I sincerely hope this gives you some ideas. The key is to be flexible with your collection and enjoy the process.
A follow-up to 2b above - most bindings for the older issues were actually NOT done by the NGS, hence the wide variety from full leather to buckram, and in many different colors. To capture a set ranging the entire span of years you desire to collect would be quite a catch - it can be done.
I found an entire collection on Craig's list in red buckram that spanned 1888 to 1978 back in Feb 2013. 1888 to 1907 were reprints. All the volumes were in mint " new" condition because one collector back in 1978 had her entire mint collection bound.( a bound set is only as good as the magazines chosen to be bound) It cost her thousands back then to have 90 years bound. Her nephew inherited the set and gave them to me because he had no interest at all in National Geographic's.They included all the maps and supplements. They had a table of contents but no index, covers or advertisements. I can only imagine how much it would cost today to bind 1888 to 2013. So entire sets in the same binding and condition are out there but are really hard to find.
Good luck in your quest for one...