Collectors are mad about MAD magazine.
When the inaugural issue appeared on shelves in late 1952, who would have guessed that the satirical comic/magazine would eventually be published in over 24 countries around the globe? Or that collectors would be willing to pay up to several thousand dollars for certain early issues, especially pristine copies of #1?
Of course, the operative word here is pristine. As with most publications, condition is the overriding factor when determining value. Your MAD #1 may be rare, but the difference between Good (creased, scuffed, soiled, etc.) and Near Mint condition (nearly perfect) is the difference between $500 and $7,000!
A 2004/2005 price and condition chart, courtesy of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, is available at Doug Gilford's MAD Cover Site, listed below.
In general, copies of MAD #1 through #5 are the most valuable in every condition, with prices declining for subsequent issues until #24 (July 1955). A first of anything is almost always more valuable than what follows, and this holds true for MAD #24. With a newsstand price of 25 cents, the issue marked the conversion from the original 10-cent comic format to the magazine format that is published up to the present day. The Overstreet guide places a value of from $91 to $1,275, depending on condition, on #24.
Most of the issues published since the early 1980s (#231 and on) are presently fetching little at auctions online, but declining circulation figures (see MAD Magazine Lists, listed below) would indicate that prices will probably gradually increase as future supply shrinks relative to demand on the secondary market. This is especially true of issues that are cross-collectible, such as those with satires of Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings, as examples.
So, as you paw through those stacks of comics or magazines at church, yard, or rummage sales, don't ignore the smiling countenance of MAD's mascot, Alfred E. Neuman.
And don't forget to pop your finds in non-PVC (PolyVinyl Chloride) comic bags, or some other archival-quality container. Once a copy is damaged or begins to yellow from exposure to sunlight, the potential loss of value can be stomach-churning.
The Official Overstreet Comic Book Grading Guide, by Robert M. Overstreet
The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, Edition #35, By Robert M. Overstreet
Doug Gilford's MAD Cover Site
See note below.
Terrific site depicts covers of all regular MADs ever published. Also, Overstreet condition guide/price chart; history; links; The Don Martin Sound Effects Dictionary; more!
The Journal of MADness
http://www.madmack.com/jom.html (Seemingly now defunct)
Quarterly journal devoted to MAD.
Official MAD site.
MAD Magazine Collectible Information Website
Comprehensive! History; FAQs; beginner's guide; links; more! Covers just about every MAD collectible ever produced.
MAD Magazine Lists
Mike Slaubaugh's compilations of circulation figures, contributors, cover artists, more.
NOTE: We've been informed that Doug Gilford's MAD Cover Site has changed homes from http://www.collectmad.com/madcoversite/index-covers.html to http://www.madcoversite.com