A Quick Guide Detailing Several Different Areas of Magazine Collecting
Variety is what I like best about buying, selling, and collecting old magazines. I’ve basically been buying, trading, selling collectibles my entire life, and I find that the magazine hobby is the best bet to cover several of my interests, often under the covers of a single issue. I used to deal baseball cards and later movie collectibles — when handling old magazines I not only have Sports Illustrated and Photoplay passing my desk, there’s that odd movie star article in the Post and just yesterday I listed an old Vanity Fair for sale that had a photo of Lou Gehrig in it! Just about any general magazine is going to have something to pique my interest!
To me the advantage of buying and selling is that I can peruse so many more issues on a regular basis that I would otherwise with a static collection. But we’re all different and most people are happy hunting down their particular interests. This page is designed as a starting point for those who are interested in collecting old magazines but aren’t sure where to begin.
What to Collect?
Birthdays: This is a hugely popular gift item. A magazine from the year, month and year, or even week and year of the recipients’ date of birth. Today it has become popular to purchase several current copies right off the newsstand for newborns, and this type of collection falls under the same heading only it takes a little more thought and a little more work hunting down the items!
Events: This pursuit can be similar to the birthday collector as I have sold gift issues to people who bestowed them on friends standing in the background on the cover or in a more specific case a World War II issue to someone gifting it to an elderly veteran. One collector that I’ve sold magazines to was even the wife of a late Hollywood star! This is the sort of pursuit that can really start the collecting bug. Say you have a special interest in an event. Perhaps you were even present at the event. There will likely be several books covering larger events, but magazines cover both small and large historical happenings as they happened treating them with an immediacy that articles written thirty years after the fact cannot possibly preserve. This leads to our next reason for collecting:
Research: I’ve sold several back issues to writers who were digging deep for details. I went to old back issues myself to put together the Clarence Budington Kelland page on this site and I supplemented my own materials by paying my way into TIME‘s Archives to research the article about the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Some important events that are collected today include issues featuring the Hindenburg, Pearl Harbor, Integration, JFK Assassination, Kent State, Watergate, 9/11.
Personalities: This is a popular way to go. Usually collected for the covers with deeper collections going inside the issues personalities are collected from the world of sport, film, music, politics, pop culture, etc. Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Secretariat, Marilyn Monroe, Louise Brooks, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Patty Hearst, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy.
Illustrators: Sticking to the front covers, work by popular cover artists are collected heavily beginning with Norman Rockwell, one of whose most popular covers is Rosie the Riveter. Just like collecting personalities this can be a fun hunt where you can turn up unexpected gems sometimes at discounted prices. Some other heavily collected illustrators from the 19th and 20th centuries include Thomas Nast, Charles Dana Gibson, Frederic Remington, Maxfield Parrish, James Montgomery Flagg, J.C. Leyendecker. Going inside the issue can lead to stories and advertisements illustrated by these same artists as well.
Advertisements: More variety. First there are plenty of illustrated ads beginning with, once again, Norman Rockwell. A selection of Rockwell ads can be found on this site. I’ve come across several George Petty ads featuring his Petty Girls for Old Gold Cigarettes and Jantzen Swimsuits. Several ads feature personalities as well, as they are often used as pitchmen for products. I just saw a great Lucky Strike ad from the early 1930’s featuring Jean Harlow and have come across ads for Camel featuring Joe DiMaggio. It’s not just cigarettes though, nor is it just movie and sports stars. There are musicians pictured in old Victrola ads, popular writers pitch a variety of old products. Then we have ads illustrated with trademark personalities — I’m speaking of fictional characters associated with specific products such as Rastus for Cream of Wheat, Snap, Crackle and Pop for Rice Krispies or more recently Joe Camel.
Writers: Magazines were packed with classic writers in the first half of the twentieth century. You can find short stories by legends such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and J.D. Salinger, serialized work by P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, and a whole group of writers who are lesser remembered by the casual reader today but no lesser collected by their rabid fans, many of these writers appeared in old magazines every week during their hey day. Beginning with Sax Rohmer, this list includes favorites such as S.S. Van Dine, Clarence Budington Kelland, Luke Short, Rose Wilder Lane and several others.
Collect a Run: Then there is the possibility that you favor a particular title and wish to collect a consecutive run of issues. This could be a weekly classic such as TIME or LIFE or more likely something a little less mainstream such as Vanity Fair or the pre-Luce Life, both of which are a little harder to find.
There are certainly several ways to collect, just the main few of which are outlined here. If you’re just getting started out you may find the links to eBay helpful in seeking out items of interest. True, these are some of the most popular subjects mentioned here, some of which carry some very stiff competition. But over the years I’ve found eBay to be my best source for hunting down rare and unusual issues as well as offering a choice (in condition and price) or better known issues.