Collector's Corner: Vintage Magazines Come Out of the Attic
By Elaine Gross Russell
With the advent of the Internet, vintage magazines (1830-1940) have come out of the attic to become a viable and in many cases lucrative collectible market. There are very few Brick & Mortar stores that specialize solely in magazines. The occasional bookseller might have a few in stock, but their fragility makes them a hazard even when shielded in a plastic sleeve. For the serious collector, it is imperative to check each coveted issue for rips, mildew, and missing pages which in turn creates a series of problems with unseen Internet purchases sold more often than not by Estate Sale junkies and liquidators. The plus side, however, is that the knowledgeable collector armed with research can take a gamble on an Internet venue and make a big score.
Magazines are collected for literary, artistic, and advertising content. Most first appearances of the major work of literary Stars such as Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and Agatha Christie were published initially in magazines. Consequently, vintage magazines offer the discerning collector accessibility to important works that might normally be out of reach financially.
In October 1851, Harper's Monthly published "The Town-Ho's Story" from "The Whale," by Herman Melville, which was the first true appearance in print of any portion of "Moby Dick". Although it does not command the six figures of the first edition book, the Harper's Monthly magazine issue has a respectable retail value of $650.
In 1884, Century Magazine Editor Richard Watson Gilder convinced Mark Twain to allow him to present parts of "Huckleberry Finn" in pre-publication. An excerpt appeared for the Century's December 1884 issue and two further installments, in January and February 1885. The three installments of Huck Finn in the Century are valued at an affordable $250 versus the $10,000 or more for the first state of the first edition.
As the editor of Bentley's Miscellany, Charles Dickens made the magazine an enormous success with the publication of the first installment of his own novel "Oliver Twist" (February 1837 - April 1839), illustrated by George Cruikshank. The first edition book sells for between $12,500 - $10,000. Bentley's Miscellany with the complete first appearance is a bargain at only $1200.
In contrast, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first magazine appearances are worth far more than the first edition of his books. Beeton's Christmas Annual was a successful British magazine famous for its insulting satires of Queen Victoria and British Royalty. As a struggling young doctor, Arthur Conan Doyle, sold them a novel he'd written for which he was paid a mere 25 British pounds. The novel, "A Study In Scarlet," had already made the rounds and been rejected by several publishers. It introduced a detective, Sherlock Holmes, and an amenable fellow, Doctor Watson, as the narrator of the stories.
Issued in November 1887 at a price of one shilling, the run of Beeton's sold out before Christmas. The first edition of Doyle's book, "Study in Scarlet," can be purchased for $12,000. A facsimile of the magazine can be had for the bargain-price of $225. However, in December 2004, an original issue of Beeton's 1887 Christmas Annual in only fair condition sold at a Sothebys Auction for $153,600.
Lippincott's Monthly Magazine was a major literary outlet for the famous Philadelphia publishing house. The February 1890 issue with Conan Doyle's "The Sign of the Four" recently sold at the December 2004 Sothebys Auction for $63,000.
There are also literary Sleepers, who have a radical following among collectors. Although their magazine appearances may not command the stratospheric prices of the Stars, they are still gold to collectors.
Albert Payson Terhune, a novelist who wrote books about dogs - collies in particular - has an enthusiastic audience for his magazine stories about dogs. His much sought-after work appeared between 1914 and 1942 in publications such as The American Magazine, Collier's Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Ladies' Home Journal, and the Saturday Evening Post. A Terhune appearance will easily turn an average $10 magazine into a $60 issue.
The "Thinking Machine" character, Professor Van Dusen, created by American writer Jacques Futrelle in 1905, was serialized by the Saturday Evening Post in several stories from 1906 thru 1910. Futrelle's career was unfortunately cut short when after saving his wife, he went down with the Titanic. His untimely demise makes the early Post issues of his work even more valuable. Curiously, Futrelle's work is sought after in Japan, where there are entire websites devoted to him in Japanese.
Rose Wilder Lane, a world traveler and political activist, helped edit the "Little House" books written by her mother, Laura Ingalls. A successful writer and journalist, Rose published numerous short stories and articles in such diverse magazines as Harper's, Sunset, Asia Magazine, Travel Magazine, and the Saturday Evening Post. Her contributions raise the value of "ordinary" travel magazines of the 1920s.
There are many more literary Stars and Sleepers that appeal to magazine collectors. The next step, however, is the artists that illustrated their stories.
About the author:
Elaine Gross Russell (eBay ID: ellysan) is a partner in Sangraal Books (http://www.sangraal-books.com), which has specialized in antiquarian books, vintage magazines, prints and ephemera since 1973. She is a former writer/editor for Rolling Stone magazine, and a contributor to AB Bookman's Weekly. Her expertise in vintage magazines served as the catalyst for the new Antique Trader Vintage Magazines Price Guide (http://digbig.com/4fhnc), which she co-authored with writer/ husband Richard Russell (author of the best-selling Antique Trader Book Collector's Price Guide). In her spare time, she also does public relations for Rinkya Inc. (http://www.rinkya.com), a deputy shopping service for Japanese online auctions and stores. Email Elaine (elaine @ sangraal-books.com) with questions about vintage magazines.
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