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Signed/"Autographed" Early Issues of the National Geographic Magazine

I would like to start a discussion regarding pre-1900 issues of the NG which bear the signature of the original owner on the magazine cover. In many cases these signatures ("autographs") are those of original members of the NG Society. I have always felt that such signatures serve as a type of value enhancement to those individual copies. The question I pose to you is whether you agree with me and if so how much do these signatures add to the value of a given issue? I have never seen this question addressed. I could not find anything addressing this question in any of the booklets I have by Edwin Buxbaum or Don Smith.

In my collection I have 2 such signatures: those of Frank Baker of the Smithsonian Institution (Vol 2 #2) and W.C. Hodgkins of the Coast and Geodetic Survey (Vol 7 #9). I have enclosed photos of both.

Very much looking forward to your opinions and responses,

Larry Moffett

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Yes Jim I reside in Dundee OR in the Willamette Valley wine country.

Your signed copy of the Oregon issue is quite remarkable. I think this should be an additional category within the autographed copy valuation framework! I have 2 copies of this issue one of which I would grade as Very Fine to Near Mint (see photo). That said, I believe your copy is more valuable as it was signed by the sole author of that issue. I find it interesting that the Senator was not listed as either an Active or Corresponding Member of the NGS in 1895.



This is an excellent topic for discussion - thank you for its introduction.

I personally seek out issues signed by "issue" authors and/or founding members of the NGS, as identified in Vol II, No. 5.

However, I've seen no collector's data indicating enhanced value as such.

Empirically, it makes sense to add value for insurance purposes, but in the end, I believe the quality of the issue to be "the" determining factor as to the overall value. The value of the autograph can only be determined by the buyer.



Thanks for your response. I fully agree that the quality of a given issue is the primary determining factor in the valuation of that issue. You are right in asserting that there exist no collectors’ data or guidelines regarding additional valuation of signed issues by original members or contributors to the NGS. Nevertheless it seems somehow logical to me that such signed issues would be worthy of an enhanced valuation. I began this discussion to find out whether other collectors might feel similarly. It might be as simple as adding this criterion to grading standards such as those that you have put forth. Perhaps the autograph would add a given % to the initial value based on grading or perhaps it would bump up the initial grading to a higher category. In the end the buyer pays what he feels an issue is worth. Guidelines are nice to have though.


To all,

I agree that for the "purist bibliophile" the material quality of the book (in our case magazine) is the primary determinant of "value".

Nonetheless, for most (?) collectors of NGM, the content and what it represents historically is equally, perhaps even more, significant. [The current scope of the magazine, while undoubtedly of interest, exceeds by far what the "founders" anticipated.Good? Bad? ]. This includes knowing about the owners of the early issues, almost all of them "geographic pioneers" in some capacity. Relating to them by holding in one's hand the magazines that they read and treasured, means a lot (at least to me). 

  Let's continue the discussion, hopefully extending it to more participants of the forum. Also, I propose that we collect information about the early NGS members (and NGM subscribers) and maintain a central repository of this information. This could include an index of the current holdings of autographed issues, permitting - if so desired - the exchange and collection of "owner sets".




I am definitely on-board with your feeling of having a direct, tactile connection to an item (in this case a copy of early NGM's) that you would know was in the hands and home of an early member, founder, contributor. 

That membership roster in the early years is a veritable who's-who of accomplished and well-known individuals (at least in their own day before they became more obscure to future generations) within and around their fields of expertise. They also existed within overlapping and wide circles, both professionally and socially. 

I do feel that any copy of an NGM with an original member's name/signature on it is special by default. Hence, a premium on the asking-selling price would be completely expected and appropriate. These were not "members" as they later were, these were active members in the 'geographic' fields & professions, and many or most were in some branch of government whilst also affiliated w/ other premiere organizations and/or universities. Etc. 

I like your feedback to Larry's post. Best,

  ~ Scott S.

I wish we did have "official" guidelines !

I think the work Mel De Vilbiss has done is the closest thing we have  : - ) 

- Scott 


Very astute as usual.

Anyone with narrower, specific interest(s) would be more thrilled w/ a particular person's signature than another. A "Titanic" aficionado would doubtless place more monetary value on an NGM copy (featuring a Titanic article + signed by Dr. R. Ballard), than another who has zero interest or investment in the same topic/person. 

This would apply to any and all authors, member's, founders, etc. whose names may ever be found to be on an NGM copy. And, not just NGM, but also say the early "technical" books and monographs and one-off article reprints, invitations, etc. 

I would say in the broadest sense, any copy of anything signed by an author/participant is automatically 'more special' than any other standard copy of the same item. 

Thus, I could share that off the top of my head, I only have 4 Nat Geo items w/ signatures. Two are inserted images below:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ~ Scott


Thank-you for starting an excellent discussion. It's an interesting "debate", or concept to hash out amongst collectors, indeed.

I do not feel I have any authoritative insight or corresponding 'evidence' to contribute as per the tricky issue of valuation. Thomas, Mel, and James have already added their comments and assessments, as I've just read. 

If talking about any of the 33 actual original founders of the National Geographic Society, I cannot help but adjudge that their signatures (with or without any other notations, 'inscribed to' or even a random comment to self) should and must increase the value of the said NGM issue, practically irrespective of the overall condition of the copy(-ies) in question . . . 

If we have one copy of an issue with say, Henry Gannett's name on it, and the same vol. & no. copy next to it --sans Gannett's signature-- then the Gannett copy must command a premium, how could it not? Yet, I concur with the other gentlemen, how much more $ is an open-ended exercise in theorizing. 

If we had to pick one name that /should be/ the proverbial 'holy grail' of all signatures, I can only conclude it would be that of Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Anyone adequately versed in the biographies of the founders would understand why. It's owing to his career and standing and accomplishments, in addition to his being the inaugural Society President that would make it thus. Also, he was the one who initiated the convening of that fateful meeting of January 13, 1888. 

If budget $ were never a variable in-play, I would always choose a copy with a founder's name on it, than one without; if the signed copy was more degraded, it matters not. 

The presence of a founders' name on an NGM copy inherently holds more cachet. There's other aspects of your discussion and the replies already made that could be delved into much further, of course. 


     ~ Scott 

Thanks for your input and perspective on this topic. Much appreciated!
I look forward to even more opinions within our collectors‘ collective!!

Best regards,


As always, well said Scott!

Jane Goodall and Buzz Aldrin - wow!



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