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National Geographic Magazine

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INDEX of Back Issues:

National Geographic Magazine

Publication Dates: 1888 - 2002

Publication Info: On the evening of January 13, 1888, thirty-three men traveled on foot, horseback, and in horsedrawn carriages through the streets of Washington to the Cosmos Club, then on Lafayette Square across from the White House. They convened around a large mahogany table to discuss "the advisability of organizing a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge." The entity they were about to create would become the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institution in the world.

Nine months after the Society was founded, the first NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine was published. A studious, scientific journal with a nondescript, dull-brown cover, it bore no resemblance to the color-illustrated periodical it would come to be. On its first two pages, however, was an announcement stating the mission that was to guide the Society and its magazine for the next century and beyond.

First published by the National Geogrphic Society in 1888, National Geographic magazine is a staple of American culture, and has been circulated on a monthly basis continually since 1896 (except 1897 and 1917, when there were only 11 issues). Between 1888 and 1890, there were nine issues published in total in two volumes (#1 and #2), and during the years 1891 - 1895, there were a total of 27 brochures produced at various dates, making a total of 36 early editions of the magazine.

Overall, the cover design of the magazine was brutally frank and plain, until cover illustrations began appearing in 1959. There have been six different cover designs, the most well-known being the yellow cover with the contents in black print, surrounded by white filagree on the borders, which has been in use since 1910. The magazine began in a 6 x 9 1/2 inch format, becoming 7 x 10 in 1900.

One of the more intriguing aspects of collecting National Geographic is their inclusion of maps of all varieties. Many issues are now without maps, though a complete issue is considered one that still holds the map. The maps themselves have become collector's items and some people prefer them over the magazines themselves. With the proliferation of map-grabbing from the magazines, issues still containing maps, especially those during the World Wars, should continue to grow in popularity and value.

National Geographic is one of the more popular magazines in the United States and Canada, so values are somewhat lower than one might expect, especially for issues prior to the 1940s. Early issues (1800s) are becoming quite scarce and pricey, since there are comparably few around.

PRICING & COLLECTING INFO: The earliest issues of National Geographic are the most valuable, especially the first volume, which ocnsisted of only 4 issues. While the first issue will generally fetch upwards of $4000, the usual range is from $7-9,000, with a very few sales over the $10,000 mark. It is considered by collectors to be one of the most highly-prized of any magazine within the past 150 years and it is very difficult to find in anything better than good condition.

The three issues which followed in the first volume are nearly as rare and prices will range between $2000-5000, though not higher. After that, prices fall dramatically, into the hundreds for pre-1900 issues and lower as time progresses. Many good collections are still in the hands of families - in basements, attics and storage areas, but as the population ages, many are being sold online, at auctions or via estate and newspaper classified sales.

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    Consecutive run estimates (ranges from good to mint):

  • 1888-present: $25,000 - 80,000
  • 1888-1900: $15,000 - 45,000
  • 1900-present: $7,000 - 15,000
  • 1900-1920: $3,000 - 8,000
  • 1921-1945: $1,500 - 3,500
  • 1946-1975: $750 - 1,500
  • 1976-present: $200 - 500
Key Issues:

Volume 1, #1: Initial publication
1891-1895: Brochure issues (Volumes 3-6)
January, 1896: Beginning of regular monthly publication.
October, 1909: Discovery of the North Pole
October, 1912: China
October, 1917: Flag Number
May, 1923: Tomb of Tutankhamen
April, 1937: Colonial Williamsburg
October, 1941: Ancient Egypt
June, 1943: Insignia of US Armed Forces
October, 1943: Decorative Medals and Service Ribbons
October 1947: Antarctica
February, 1951: American Paintings
July, 1954: Mt. Everest
June, 1962: John Glenn Orbits the Earth
August, 1963: Disneyland
October, 1963: 75th Anniversary of National Geographic Society
December, 1969: Apollo 11
December, 1975: The Mayan People
March, 1984: American Eagle Holograph cover
November, 1985: Early Man Holograph cover
January, 1988: 100 Years of the National Geographic Society
September, 1988: 100 Years of the National Geographic Society
December, 1988: McDonald's Holographic ad (back cover)

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