Collecting vintage magazines

Magazines are collected by people all over the world, and although most of them do not command high prices on Ebay, many people are finding that it is worth putting up vintage magazines for sale, even if it's just a single back issue of a magazine. There are old magazines in lofts around the country that can fetch hundreds of pounds. For example, Bloomsbury Books held an auction in London of underground magazines, including a complete run of Oz, which made £3,600, and a run of International Times, for £3,000. So if you've got those in a suitcase under the bed, it may be worth talking to an auction house. And there is always a demand for vintage fashion magazines, such as Tatler and Vogue, which are still published, and Town and Nova, which are not; pre-1970 Radio Times also sell well.

My book on British Magazine Design can help identify these classics. Many titles will be unfamiliar today, but they were once household names and are well worth putting up for sale. There are also general subjects to watch out for.

Celebrity fans can drive up the price of any old magazine:

  • a 1965 issue of TV World magazine fetched £147 in 2017 – Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in The Avengers was on the cover.
  • Two years earlier, a 1954 copy of Blighty with a Diana Dors cover fetched £25.69;
  • a 1926 Christmas Radio Times fetched £74 whereas the first Radio Times Dr Who cover pulled in 33 bids to reach £509.99;
  • £31 was paid in 2009 for a copy of Tit-Bits with Raquel Welch, Honor Blackman and Robert Powell from 1979 – it originally cost 12p. Copies of Tit-Bits usually fetch £1-£10.
  • Early Marilyn Monroe covers can fetch thousands – a copy of True Story from October 1952 fetched £1,000 in 2017.
  • The priciest combination is Sherlock Holmes in the Strand Magazine – an 1891 copy fetched £540; it's the unbound copies that achieve the best prices.
And certainly many more old magazines are going up for sale on eBay every day – 1.4 million in 2021. In 2015, there were just 600,000 magazines for sale in the UK on ebay.co.uk.

This page analyses eBay sales and discusses collecting magazines:


A feel for the eBay magazine market

One way to get a feel for the magazine market is through Ebay.co.uk – and it demonstrates massive growth in magazine sales online. A search in 2020 showed 616,000 live listings – a decade earlier it was just 98,095 using the words 'magazine -book' in the section Books, Comics & Magazines. Analysis of the 2007 data suggests the price breakdown in Table 1. So, 86% of all the magazines would fetch less than £10, and 99.66% less than £65.

Table 1. About 86% of magazines on Ebay sell for less than £10

Price
Lots completed
%
£65 or more
100
0.34%
30 to 65
1,350
4.59%
10 to 30
2,600
8.84%
£1 to £10
18,875
64.15%
£1 or less
6,500
22.09%

29,425


Magazine prices on eBay

On the first two pages of 100 lots, prices ranged from £839.99 to £65, but half of these did not sell, including the two most expensive items (nine volumes of 1861-63 Temple Bar magazine and a set of Buses 1971-2005 for £650). Someone tried selling a copy of Nova from 1967 for £150. A set of Q to issue 117 didn't sell at £199.

Among those that did sell, were:

  • 180 copies of Vogue (1968-93) for £49 (£2.77 each).
  • a Christmas 1908 copy of Strand Magazine for £433. This carried the first outing for the Arthur Conan Doyle story 'The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans'. The seller described it as 'extremely rare in this condition'.
  • bound volume of Gentleman's Magazine from 1752 with 32 colour plates for £415.50. A 1769 volume cost £78.10.
  • a collection of the first 10 years of Face (121 copies) sold for £185 + £40 postage with 20 bids (£1.53 each).
  • Three issues of Oz for between £160 and £169.69, led by an October 1967 issue in excellent condition with 14 bids.
  • 365 copies of Car (1970-2005) for £167.59 (46p each).
  • Launch issue of Wallpaper (Sept/Oct 1996) for £155.99 (14 bids); a copy of the July/August 1997 issue sold for £142; a March/April 1997 issue sold for £73.10. However, two 1998 issues sold for 1p (plus £3 postage) and several failed to sell at £1.50 plus £1.50 postage.
  • Bound volume of 27 copies of Radio Times for £137.67;
  • Lost Magazine issues 1 to 9 with the 'rare variant covers ... never issued in the UK' for £124.99 plus £9.99 on a buy-it-now listing. A copy of issue 2 went for £12.50.
  • A collection of 1,000 car magazines dated between 1980 and 1990 went for £110 on a buy-it-now listing.
  • First 100 issues of Classic Rock with cover CDs for £92.
  • Christmas 1916 issue of The Bystander with cartoons by Bruce Bairnsfather (Old Bill) and Wilmot Lunt for £71.
  • 70 issues of Evo car monthly for £69.90 (the seller sold the first issue separately – for £21.87).
  • 8 copies of 1950s pin-up title Spick for £21.
  • BBC Sky at Night (issue 14 with CD-Rom for £21.01.
By the end of page 30, prices were down to £30 (again, typically, half the lots were unsold). By page 83, the price was under £10, but only about a quarter of the lots sold; there was page after page of bulk-selling, pay-it-now items at £15 and £10 not selling.

The same period saw more than 130 pages listing titles for £1 or less – most of which did not sell.

Guardian article on collecting magazines


What sells a magazine?

The Ebay list gives excellent clues to selling. Attractive elements include:
  • the quality of the title – this is where the vintage fashion magazines win out because of their production quality and longevity, plus fashions keep coming back, or being re-interpreted;
  • rarity and condition;
  • cult status, eg,Oz and Lost;
  • first issues (and last);
  • historic content, such as the Sherlock Holmes stories in The Strand by Conan Doyle, or famous illustrations;
  • cover subject: people such as Princess Diana, Madonna, Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe sell old, as well as new, magazines (see Dick Stolley's mantra for what sells People);
  • knitting patterns in women's weeklies and other magazines about a sport or hobby;
  • age does not make a magazine valuable, but it will multiply the value if it already meets some of the above criteria;
  • the seller's reputation.
Selling an old magazine can be down to luck. For example, there were 70 listings of Oz in the period covered. The cheapest was £1.95 (issue 40 in good condition with a 'loose' cover). Also, Ebay is not a perfect market. A copy of issue 26 didn't sell; another sold a week later for £4.20. Both in 'reasonable' condition. Two back issues of Oz issue 7 sold – for £169 and £156.

The highest paid for Lost issues 1-9 was £124.99 plus £9.99 postage, but four other sets went for £51-£90. A first issue sold for £19.99 and other copies for £1.60 to £19.99.


How do people collect magazines?

There are as many reasons to collect old magazines as there are magazines. However, there are common factors that attract collectors:

  • first and last issues;
  • specific title – and once someone starts collecting they will pay a premium for a single back issue of a magazine to complete a set;
  • pin-ups, particular from the 1950s with stars such as Joan Collins, Diana Dors and Marilyn Monroe;
  • titles devoted to cars or films;
  • writers may collect magazines from an era to help capture the 'feel' of a period;
  • covers with a theme, for example Beatles or Twiggy;
  • genres, such as pin-up titles;
  • US buyers may be interested in a British magazine that carried a story by a writer they collect, or illustrator. This is particularly the case with pulp fiction or 'pulps' – magazine printed on cheap wood pulp paper;
  • historical advertising in magazines;
  • specific writers, photographers or illustrators;
  • issues with early examples of stories by writers such as PG Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and Sax Rohmer;
  • magazines linked to work or academic study, for example vintage fashion magazines or design titles;
  • link to a sport or hobby, be it motoring or cookery;
  • illustrators, fashion stylists and designers collect magazines for inspiration;
  • magazines featuring a particular celebrity;
  • theatre directors, TV or film makers looking to reconstruct the look and feel of a period – The Doctor is seen reading vintage magazines or comics in Dr Who;
  • historic events, such as the sinking of the Titanic.
Some people like to collect a complete run of a magazine, which can be an easy way to start! For example:
  • Popworld Pulp closed after 2 issues in 2007 and So London had just 3 in the same year;
  • women's glossy weekly Riva had just 7 issues in 1988;
  • men's monthly Club ran to 21 issues;
  • pin-up monthly Span published 266 issues (1954-76).
Then people might buy a back issue of a magazine to commemorate a birthday or rekindle a teen/childhood event – or seek inspiration for a 1980s theme party.

One Ebay seller was auctioning a complete set of pop monthly Rave (February 1964 to September 1971): 'This collection was purchased monthly for my wife and lovingly stored, for her to look back on her teenage years.' He added: 'Individual copies can sell anywhere between £8-£30+ so the price I am asking is an average cost per issue of £9.50 (copies that have sold recently, are averaging out at £18 per copy).'


Where to sell old magazines – and buy old magazines

Please mention Magforum if you contact any of these sites – it helps when I'm after a favour such as a cover scan. See the Magforum blog for selling ideas. Places that buy and sell old magazines include:


The condition of magazines

A seller who is not familiar with 'official' collectors' terms such as 'mint' and 'fair' for descriptions of old magazines should stick to everyday language. Be careful to state, for example, whether:
  • it is an original magazine. Several magazines have reproduced vintage issues to celebrate anniversaries. So there are reproductions around of the first issues of Country Life, Woman's Weekly and Time Out. It can be difficult to spot the difference;
  • pages are missing (very easy to overlook!);
  • items cut out, such as articles or vouchers;
  • the magazine has been folded or kept flat;
  • any pages are ripped;
  • the spine is broken and there are loose pages;
  • cover becoming/is detached;
  • any writing on covers (such as a delivery name or address) or inside, or marks – rings from cups are common!;
  • forms or crosswords filled in;
  • creases to cover or inside;
  • 'foxing' – brown marks that appear as spots;
  • discolouration and yellowing of pages (common on newsprint or poor paper, particularly if magazine has been left in sunlight);
  • rusting staples (common in magazines before 1970).

A good, square-on picture for your old magazine really does help. Don't use stock pictures or someone else's image – that is not what you are selling. Soccerbilia publishes a magazine grading guide.

Be sure to get your facts right. If you can't prove a statement yourself, give a source for the quote so people can check it out for themselves. Magforum is regularly quoted on the history or background of a magazine on eBay, which is fine as long as you credit the source.



Looking after and storing magazines

There are many factors to consider when storing magazine back issues:
  • they need protecting from light; water; high and low temperatures (which cause condensation and damp); and insects and mice;
  • magazines are heavy, particularly glossy monthlies;
  • magazines are better kept flat;
  • they vary in size, mostly from A5-ish to tabloid (A3-ish) newspaper supplements;
  • vintages magazines of the likes of Nova, Queen, Town and Vogue are bigger than today's glossy monthlies. They don't fit in standard boxes or bags;
  • you may be able to get A4 photocopier paper boxes from work, but they are too small for many old magazines;
  • magazines need to be kept dry – varnished pages that get wet or damp will stick together when they are dried out.

I use:

  • G Ryder & Co's acid-free cardboard boxes for valuable magazines. These are not cheap, but are excellent quality. Try to buy them in volume to get a good price and cut postage costs;
  • book publishers' boxes, which tend to be slightly larger than A4, as are wine boxes and boxes of 12 500m beers. The magazines are stacked flat;
  • self-assembly magazine boxes that store magazines vertically – but beware the cheap ones, they can't take the weight;
  • storage boxes from JR Comics – but be careful, these are too heavy to lift if full of glossies. I haven't tested the claim that they can stack 5-high;
  • plastic bags with a sealing strip (but don't let the sticky strip catch on the cover when you take them in and out);
  • a pile of 20 glossy monthlies will fill a box of the size used for a dozen bottles of wine. Don't stack any higher than this, or the spines will distort. Put alternate issues face down to allow for the fact that the spine edge will be thicker. Put top issue face down;
  • magazines are heavy, particularly glossy monthlies;
  • boxes will sag over time and collapse if stacked.

Some tips:

  • think about how you're going to organise your collection. I arrange the boxes by date for most titles, but by title for a big run of a particular title;
  • I have a wordprocessor file listing my magazines. It gives details of publisher, printer, date, price, pagination, what I paid for it, editor, designer, notes on articles, writers, illustrators. It's about 5MB – in 8pt text it prints out at 200 pages;
  • when you stack old magazines on top of each other, don't align the spines for more than about 6 copies because the spine is thicker than the opening edge;
  • stacking magazines too high can cause the spines to flatten and lose their squareness;
  • seal the boxes, otherwise spiders and insects get in;
  • beware of mice in garages and lofts – they will eat into boxes and magazines;
  • store boxes off the floor on a platform – just in case there's a spillage. Also, damp can seep in from a garage floor;
  • Beware if you're moving house; a box of Dazed & Confused will be heavier than anything but LP records.

Selling on Ebay

It's astounding what people think they can sell a magazine back issue for. One Ebay seller put up a first issue of Cosmopolitan that had an undisclosed reserve on it (bad idea) that turned out to be something ridiculous like £100. I asked about this and they said they'd spoken to someone 'high up' at NatMags who said they were very rare and the office copy was kept in a glass display case(!). Do I detect the pitter-patter of someone being led off up the garden path?

This demonstrates the first rule – do an advanced search on Ebay for sold copies. If the would-be seller above had done hers, she would have seen a copy of that issue sell the month before for £8.50. Even a copy in mint condition would be unlikely to go for 12 times that.

Of course, people have different strategies. If you have a collection of 1960s Honey magazines and you put them all up at £125, perhaps some of them will sell. But most will not. And none of them will go very quickly. But it's your choice. So my advice:

  • search on sold copies in advanced search to get an idea of price; it will also tell you how many bids there were, hence the demand;
  • if you can't find one, try to use a comparable title – Glamourfor Cosmo; Voguefor Elle; FHM for Maxim;
  • add US terms such as 'pulp magazine', if they're suitable. These may bring in overseas buyers or be familiar to collectors;
  • you may see from the search that the title simply doesn't sell; if so, offer it to Magforum!, or take it down the charity shop or up into the loft for a decade;
  • if it's not worth much, is there an interview in there that might sell to a Madonna fan, rather than a magazine collector? So list in both places;
  • remember that some people collect the advertising or just frame the cover – is there something worthwhile putting up?;
  • don't list a collection all in one go; do a few a day to try and build up interest – with the best ones being sold last;
  • postage costs are a bugbear – often more than the magazine will go for – so consider selling 2 or 3 copies at a time. Maximise value by keeping within postal weight boundaries;
  • protecting mags in the post is vital – use old card and put them in a plastic bag. A padded bag is sometimes not enough – an ordinary envelope definitely not enough;
  • don't be tempted to jack up the postage – the buyer will get feedback revenge when they see the stamps cost 81p and you charged £2.50!;
  • please don't put text across the cover on listings photographs – eBay is a resource for researchers, collectors and academics who will collect cover images as part of their work;
  • make sure you have checked all the pages and there's nothing cut out or written anywhere. It is very easy to miss a page torn out – and you'll end up having to give the fee back because the postage return will be more than the mag!

Finally, consider doing a summary of the content – an article by a famous writer (or someone who was famous a century ago but you've never heard of), images by a popular photographer or a profile of a star can expand your customer base.


Posting magazines

The condition of a magazine is important for its value, and collectors will take note of every crease, corner bump and fold. So, protecting magazines in the post is vital. The first thing is to keep it flat, so just an ordinary envelope won't work. At the least, use a card-backed envelope or reinforce the envelope with a sheet of card – breakfast cereak packets can be opened up and folded round the magazine. Jiffy bags are no good for this. Save up card envelopes and the cardboard wrappings that online bookshops use. Slim cardboard boxes are ideal.

Never fold a magazine if it has not been folded before. If it really is too big for an envelope, use a postal tube instead, but do not roll the magazine too tight. Putting the magazine in a plastic bag stops any damp getting to it. Finally, go easy if you use sticky tape – some packages are a nightmare to get into!

Check the postal address and make sure it's clear on the envelope, particularly the postcode.

For many buyers, having to sign for a package is a problem, because they may be out at work and the depot is miles away. So if you do use signed-for postage, make sure you say this on the listing. In summary:

  • keep the magazine flat;
  • wrap the magazine in a plastic bag;
  • reinforce the envelope with card;
  • don't use too much tape;
  • make sure the address is clear;
  • say if you use signed-for delivery.

Useful eBay searches

Here are two useful eBay searches. Click on one and it'll take you to eBay and do the search in a new browser window:
  • live listings: Magazines on eBay UK only (this includes overseas sellers who have put their listing on ebay.co.uk);
  • completed listings for magazines on eBay UK so you can see what actually sold.

The trick is to narrow down the numbers – from 404,000 live listings in this case – to focus on what you want. If the magazine has a unique name, it's easy:

It's tricky if your title is part of other titles. Take Today, a general interest weekly from the 1960s, for example:

  • results for Today in Magazines on eBay UK.

There are 2,500+ results for this because of all the titles with 'Today' as part of their name: Yachting Today, Today's Golfer, History Today, etc. So, remove those words using a minus sign:

No doubt you can see ways to improve the search based on the results that you don't want. Be careful though, because you will also remove results for your target magazine that use that word in the description.

There is a Categories menu on the left column in eBay that can narrow down a search. However, I find this unreliable. On the day I wrote this, the News & Current Affairs category had 5 results – and no copies of Today were there, but there was a book about bears!

Once you're happy, save the search so you can repeat it.

It's worth bearing in mind that sellers listing magazines can get things wrong – or perhaps list an issue in, say 'Collectables' rather than as a magazine. Again, Empire might be found in 'Films & TV'. So, step out of your focused search occasionally to see what might be coming up elsewhere. Also, watch out for alternative spellings and errors: Car Week or CarWeek, Today's Golf or Today's Golfer or Todays Golfer.


Quoting Magforum and eBay

I'm happy for eBay sellers to quote from Magforum, but you should acknowledge this by giving the Magforum page address. Ebay won't allow links to other websites, but you can suggest people doing a search such as "magforum + John Bull magazine". All the material on Magforum is copyright – the site has taken the best part of two decades to build up and it's a one-man band, so you can imagine how how much time and effort has gone into it. Income from advertising pays for the site's fees, research costs and buying magazines.

Referencing Magforum will benefit your eBay marketing:

  • it shows the buyer there is a collecting base for your magazine;
  • serious collectors will already know Magforum, and the good practice it encourages in buying and selling;
  • there will often be extra pictures and information that help describe your magazine in more detail;
  • Magforum is heavily used by collectors – this page is the top Google result for the search 'collecting magazines' – so by using it you show you have done your research and are a serious seller.

If you are creating your own web pages, you can often jump straight to the magazine you want to discuss. For example, if you are talking about a copy of Queen:

  • Search on 'Queen' at Magforum.com using the Google search box at the top of most pages;
  • This will return a link to glossies/queen.htm
  • When you click on this, it takes you to the top of one of the women's glossy monthly pages, which includes Queen;
  • On the right you see a list of titles covered by the page;
  • Click on Queen in blue text and it will jump you to the entry;
  • Copy the address in your web browser address bar to use to create a link: glossies/queen.htm#que
  • It is the #que part that finds Queen within the page;
  • If you do not know how to make a live link in your web page, paste in the full address to your text and people can copy and paste this into their web browser.

One final thing for eBay sellers, though, don't copy the images because they are not of your actual copy of the magazine and will usually have been cleaned up to show the cover in better detail. Good luck!