National Geographic magazines are iconic and highly valued in the collectible world. They have inspired people from all over the globe for more than 150 years with their incredible tales and meaningful photojournalism, documenting key events and critical discoveries. National Geographic magazines continue to enchant the armchair traveller and have kick-started a wide range of adventures over the years. This gives them a special place in the hearts of many, and makes the issues highly collectable today.
Whether you are lucky enough to own a rare edition, or interested in forming a valuable collection of National Geographic magazines you have come to the right place! We will provide you with a guide to the most valuable issues along with guide prices, a buying/selling guide, and a short guide on how to preserve your precious items. But first, let’s discover a little bit about the background of National Geographic magazines – what makes them so famous and highly valued today?
National Geographic magazines are world-renowned for their high-quality photojournalism. They are some of the most widely read publications of all time! The magazine, published by the National Geographic Society, specialises in reporting on world issues, intriguing stories, and incredible photos. Their primary subject matter includes geography, archaeology, biology and anthropology, but they have covered an astounding range of topics over the years.
The first issue was produced in October 1888, and for the first 14 years the magazines were published in black and white. In 1904, an editor made a last-minute decision to fill out the content with several full-page images. This massively boosted the profile of the magazine and it became more and more popular, eventually publishing in full color. The first full-photo cover page was published in 1959. It depicted the US flag fluttering from a flagpole.
In terms of iconic front covers, there are very few people who haven’t seen the famous green-eyed Afghan girl cover, which was published in 1984. Other striking images include the Gorilla with a camera, published in 1978. These impactful issues have stuck with people through the years, often representing important events in human and natural history.
Guide To Most Valuable National Geographic Magazines
The first thing to know is that the most valuable issues of National Geographic are generally those published before 1907. This is because very few issues were published back in the day – around 10,000 copies of each compared to the approximately 10 million copies of every magazine published today! A rough guide is the older the magazine, the higher the price. But this will depend on factors including:
- The condition – mint condition copies without damage and wear will be the most valuable. Good condition copies can also fetch a good price depending on rarity and collectability. Copies with stains, creases, missing images or pages will go for the lowest price. Copies without the renowned cover page missing can sacrifice 80% of their value.
- Completeness – a “complete” magazine is considered to be one containing the original maps or other inserts the issue was distributed with.
- Single issue or part of a collection – usually, a single issue will be more highly priced compared to a the same issue being sold as part of a collection. However, complete collections of key issues can reach very high prices depending on the condition.
Earlier Issues = Higher Value
The rarest and hence most valuable magazine is the very first issue, followed by the second, third and fourth issues – this original volume was produced in such low numbers, it is incredibly unusual to find them on sale. It is even rare to find these old editions in good condition – they have been through 150+ years of wear and tear!
As a guide price, the first issues will fetch over $4000 USD, usually reaching somewhere between $7000-9000. A few copies of this issue have even reached over $100,000! This makes it one of the highest value magazines from the past 150 years.
The second, third and fourth issues are valued slightly lower, usually reaching between $2000-5000 USD.
After this, the value of issues tends to drop quickly. Issues from between 1888-1900 usually fetch a few hundred USD.
Another very rare issue to note is the 1904 issue – the first publication containing images. It is incredibly hard to get hold of this issue, and almost impossible to find it in mint condition.
Key Issues With Highest Value
There are several key issues to look out for in terms of high value. Here, we will list them along with the average price they will fetch. Average prices are based on issues which are classed as “fine” condition (magazine rating scale: mint > near mint > very fine > fine > very good > good > fair > poor). Please note that this is not a definitive guide – values depend on several factors and cannot be definitively stated.
- Volume 1, 1888: first publication. Average price: $7000-9000
- 1891-1895: brochure issues (volume 3-6). Average price: $210-340
- January, 1896: start of the regular monthly publication. Average price: $175
- January, March, May, November 1904: first issues with images. Average price: $115
- Other months, 1904. Average price: $90
- January, February, March, 1905. Average price: $140
- Other months, 1905. Average price: $55
- 1906-1908. Average price: $40-45
- October, 1909: discovery of the North Pole. Average price: $60
- January 1911: Africa by Theodore Roosevelt. Average price: $40
- November, 1912: Glimpses of the Russian Empire. Average price: $35
- April, 1913: In the Wonderland of Peru (first images of Machu Picchu). Average price: $30
- February, 1914: Map of Alaska. Average price: $55
- March 1919: Our common dogs. Average price: $34
Selling/Buying National Geographic Magazines
The best places to sell and buy National Geographic magazines include auction sites like eBay, or quick buy sites like Etsy which often sell collectibles. The National Geographic section of eBay is an excellent place to start looking, to get an idea of prices whether you are buying or selling. The search can be filtered by publication year and month, publication name, condition, and price. Performing a search for National Geographic magazines on Etsy produces masses of results.
A good piece of advice when buying collectable magazines online is to read all the information provided carefully. Look at all the details, and go for listings with plenty of photos and a thorough description of any damages. If possible, try to find a reputable seller with a good track record on whichever auction site you choose. Don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions to find out a little more about your valuable purchase, for example details about the condition.
When selling a collectable magazine online, it is useful to do a little research first to make sure you price your item correctly. Too high and no one will be interested, too low and people may be suspicious that there is something wrong with the item. Include as much detail in the advert as possible, and make sure you keep the item somewhere safe – don’t risk worsening the condition while you wait for a buyer!
How To Protect Your Valuable Magazines
So, have you caught the magazine collecting bug? Do you want to add to your rare magazine collection? Or form a valuable National Geographic collection? Perhaps you have a rare issue, or an issue that holds sentimental value for you? It is natural that you will want to protect your valuable item carefully, to preserve it for the future. These items tend to grow in value, especially as so much information is online nowadays and paper publications are slowing down. A rare magazine full of enlightening information can be a wonderful family heirloom, providing joy and interest for generations to come.
Let’s have a look at the best way to preserve your magazine to maintain its condition. Here are some top tips:
1. Keep away from water and sunlight!
Paper hates water, and sunlight can fade images and warp the pages over time. Store your magazine in a cool, dark environment. Ideally in a box or cupboard where there is no risk of dropping or ruining it.
2. Do not stack!
Although it can be tempting to keep your magazine collection nice and flat by stacking the magazines on top of one another, this is a bad idea in the long-term. Over time, the print on the pages will get stuck together, destroying the pages when you come to move the magazines around.
3. Consider using a slipcase or paper jacket!
Slipcases or paper jackets are designed to protect magazines, comics, maps, documents, anything old and rare which requires safe storage. The best slipcases are made of strong polyester, and some can hold multiple magazines. Paper jackets made from sturdy plastic are a good option for extra protection, ensuring the longevity of the valuable item. Check these out on Amazon.
4. Label and organise your collection!
If you have several, or even hundreds of collectable magazines, it can be easy to lose track of the issues. It can be useful to consider forming some kind of labelling and filing system, to help you or future generations find the exact copy they’re looking for. You can even try a cataloguing app which helps you to locate the information you need and track down to the precise issue the article was published in. Find some cataloguing app tips here!