The ultimate result of a monthly magazine subscription is that you have twelve consecutive copies of your favorite magazine. Do that for a few years and you’ll have quite the collection. Sit on that collection long enough and you’ll start wondering if that collection is worth money. Here are a few quick things to look for to answer that question.
How Big Was Circulation?
This is the biggest factor in determining value. Not that long ago, dang skippy every middle-class household got Time, Life, or Newsweek. Most men between eighteen and sixty at least had a phase of reading Playboy (for the articles) in the 1970s. Every dentist’s office in the country was a People Magazine subscriber. Most magazines that you can name had pre-internet era circulation numbers on par with primetime TV shows or even major newspapers.
Which means they are, generally, not very valuable. The supply is large, and most people have them out of habit rather than deliberate collection. Niche magazines, on the other hand, can be a decent source of value. We’ve found that back issues of Wizard: The Comics Magazine, One: The Homosexual Viewpoint, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Dragon Magazine can do well on the secondary market. Instead of giving the view one could get out of a history book, they give a reader a window into a small subculture’s past. They talked about topics not covered by Time, they weren’t printed in such massive numbers, and that imparts value.
How Old Is It?
Very few things are cultural phenomena from the jump. As such, early issues of even iconic magazines can be worth money. For 20th century upstart mags like Playboy, National Lampoon, and High Times, it’s the issues that predate their popularity which are worth the most. For longer-lived magazines, it’s the earliest issues that attract collectors. Surviving issues of Good Housekeeping from the 1800s are of interest to collectors and historians alike for their window into average domestic life over a century gone by.
How old the magazine needs to be to be of notable value varies from title to title. It requires an examination of the magazine’s history to determine. There’s really no general rule of decade or topic that can be considered a sure thing.
How Many Do You Have?
Even when from the height of a magazine’s circulation, a run is a good value add. A full year’s worth of issues entices collectors, dealers, and historians alike. It’s a snapshot into a year in the culture, a collection kickstarter, and an inventory builder in one. If you’re not professionally in the world of selling magazine back issues, this is going to be the best way to move your collection of three- and four-dollar value issues.
Magazines are one of the trickier collectibles for a layman to evaluate. Even among a generally low-value run, there can be diamonds the rough. And unlike comic books, there aren’t many resources out there drawing attention to “key” issues. That’s why it’s a good idea to run a collection by professionals like Back to the Past before deciding what to do with it. Even if we say it’s not worth the time to sell, that’s information you didn’t have before.
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