By Doug Koztoski
Walking the floor of the summer Chantilly, Virginia show, about a half-hour outside Washington, D.C., one saw the usual ample supplies of sports cards, signed pieces, autograph guests and, in some cases, memorabilia of more flavors per table than the 31 types of ice cream Baskin-Robbins has in its stores.
One of the somewhat less talked about sectors of the hobby, however, also had solid representation at the three-day Northern Virginia show: vintage magazines. Chandy Greenholt, a longtime regular dealer with multiple tables at the show, generally brings hundreds of older magazines to Chantilly and they definitely have their fans.
“It’s very collector driven,” Greenholt said. “There are a lot of collectors out there for magazines, not investors. It’s a part of the hobby that doesn’t have heavy dealer involvement.”
Many of his mags were in the $3-$5 range on this Sunday, a few of the publications were a bit more. And although none of the “zines” are particularly rare and/or in white-hot demand, his one particular table with them is more molehill than mountain with just a few hours left in the event.
“Sports Illustrated is the classic collector driven publication,” Greenholt noted.
He happens to have dozens of those in his current inventory.
He added, “Issues of SPORT Magazine is also like that. It’s an impulse buyer’s market.”
Both of those publications fit that profile, he said.
When it comes to annuals, such as Street & Smith’s (pick the major team sport) Greenholt said it is a different situation for most collectors.
“The annuals, people build runs of (a string of years, for instance), for those they show up with a wantlist.”
Cliff Aliperti, creator of collectingoldmagazines.com, said several variables go into a publication’s popularity.
“The cover subject, a particular article or who wrote a piece in that issue are some of the key factors that determine value,” he noted.
Of course, how old/rare the publication is, engaging photos and vintage advertisements can also play a part.
Some collectors crave Baseball Magazine. A 1915 issue in Very Good (VG) condition with pitching great Walter Johnson on the cover recently went for $755 on eBay (the source for most prices in this article, rounded to the nearest dollar). Another issue of Baseball from 1916 featuring several illustrated images of various Boston Red Sox, including Babe Ruth, sold this year in VG for $570.
The aforementioned SPORT Magazine debuted in the mid 1940s and cranked out monthly issues until 2000 and then ceased publication, not counting a reboot of sorts starting in 2015. Perhaps the most collectible SPORT issues come from its first couple decades when athletes such as Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, Johnny Unitas and Bill Russell, among others, made their mark.
Joe DiMaggio, graced SPORT’s first cover in 1946 and a copy of that issue in VG sold this summer for $40. Many other issues of SPORT can normally be found online for $10-$20, at most.
Sports Illustrated’s inaugural issue hit newsstands in August of 1954, with the cover featuring Milwaukee Braves’ slugger Eddie Mathews swinging at a pitch.
The first two issues of SI are some of the most collected of that title, partly because they began “the run,” and, for some, since the first pair of issues came with three-page fold-outs showing several Topps baseball cards. Other titles, both somewhat famous and obscure, can also be fun to add to one’s collection.
And remember to consider vintage sports memorabilia magazines, as well. One of the more popular older sports collector’s publications is The Trader Speaks. Early copies of Sports Collectors Digest also get some decent attention, too, with the first issue (October 12, 1973) often trading hands for $25-$30.
Depending on your budget and how you prefer to have any magazines in your collection, the choices on older copies are generally in raw form and ungraded, but, like comic books, there are also several professionally graded magazines available.
If condition or rarity are not necessarily the highest components on one’s “must-have” list with respect to vintage magazines there seems to be a solid number of bigger lots that can be tracked down online, start with eBay.
Aliperti, however, recommended another strategy.
“I used to say eBay, but I’d imagine Craigslist would be the way to go today—bulk collections are heavy and not easily sold and shipped by someone who doesn’t do it full-time,” Aliperti said. “Look for gems among big collections acquired locally.”
Will mags lag?
What does the future hold for vintage magazines? Greenholt thinks their popularity will diminish since younger collectors generally did not grow up reading hard copies of magazines.
Aliperti has a mixed review: “General demand will likely dip as more and more archives become available online, but, like anything else, there will always be collectors.”
Yet, others liken magazines to old records, which took a nosedive once digital means for music listening took off in the past few decades, but vintage vinyl has made a solid comeback, so perhaps seasoned paper will enjoy a strong resurgence, as well.
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.