Old magazines paper way for beginning collections

Q: I've saved many old magazines including the first issue of Life. How do I find dealers or collectors who'd be interested in them?

A: Lots of readers have written for advice about how to get started collecting old magazines. While most vintage issues sell at flea markets and garage sales for just pennies or a few bucks, sometimes there's great value between their covers -- or because of them. Generally, the most desirable magazines are rare issues in excellent condition, and those containing photos or drawings by important photographers or illustrators, unusual or nostalgic advertisements, articles by famous writers, or covers which themselves qualify as works of art. Mailing labels greatly reduce a copy's value. Most collectors ignore issues dating after 1980.


Since choice pages often have been torn out, inspect an issue carefully to ensure it's complete. "Lots of dealers buy magazines to cut up for their ads and illustrations, but true collectors want them intact because they simply love old magazines," says Dennis Jette, of Paper Americana, 259 Russell St., Manchester, N.H. 03104, (603) 668-4573. He'll be among the 96 exhibitors at the Great Eastern Ephemera Show, Nov. 6-7, at the New England Building of the Eastern States Exposition Center, in West Springfield, Mass. (Contact Maven Co. Inc., P.O. Box 1538, Waterbury, Conn. 06721, [203] 758-3880.) Another prime show for buying and selling old magazines is Papermania Plus, held the first weekend after New Year's, at the Hartford (Conn.) Civic Center.

Many magazine collectors subscribe to PCM: Paper Collectors' Marketplace for its buy/sell ads. Subscriptions (12 issues) cost $17.95 from PCM, P.O. Box 128, Scandinavia, Wis. 54977-0128.


First issues of most magazines generally fetch premium prices, particularly if they're in first-rate condition, according to dealer Denis C. Jackson, of Sequim, Wash. Among the most sought-after first issues of any magazine is Volume 1, Number 1 of Life, dated Nov. 23, 1936, featuring Margaret Bourke White's cover photograph of Montana's Fort Peck Dam. About 435,000 copies were distributed. Surviving copies retail for $100 and up each, depending on condition and where they're sold. Other Life issues with illustrations by famous photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt also are desirable. Common vintage copies cost about $5 to $15 each.

For those more interested in the photographs than the magazines themselves, Life sells limited edition reproductions; for prices and ordering information contact Life Gallery of Photography Picture Sales, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, N.Y. 10020, (212) 522-4800.

To preserve old magazines, store them flat in acid-free folders or boxes, away from extremes of heat, light and humidity. Handle them carefully and infrequently.

The American Magazine, an illustrated history by Amy Janello and Brennon Jones (Abrams/Magazine Publishers of America Inc., 1991, $60) should be on the bookshelf of any magazine collector.

Q: I have an electric "Easy" washing machine with a 1912 patent date, by Syracuse Washing Machine Corp. What's it worth?

A: The "Easy," a popular model from the Teens and Twenties, remains easy to find, and since there's not much demand it's worth only around $50 in good condition, according to collector Lee Maxwell, 35901 W.C.R. 31, Eaton, Colo. 80615, (303) 454-3856. He owns around 450 different vintage washing machines.

Have a question about an antique or collectible? Write to the Solis-Cohens, P.O. Box 304, Flourtown, Pa. 19031-0304, enclosing a clear photo of the whole object and all marks. Photos can't be returned. Although personal replies are not possible, questions of general interest will be answered in this column.