Collecting Magazines

2012 Christmas/New Year Double Issue of Radio Times, featuring "The Snowman".What makes any magazine collectable? Well, at the risk of stating the obvious, the principal reason is that it still exists to be collected; yes, there’s likely to be some value placed on a particular publication because of what’s inside its covers, but what’s most likely to make any issue collectable is the fact that the vast majority of readers threw their copies away. (Or, these days, put them in the recycling.)

Certainly, when a publisher boldly puts “Collectors’ Edition” on the cover, it almost certainly isn’t particularly collectable. Life’s not that simple. That bold cover flash can be a signifier of something a little bit special, or at least what the publisher and/or editorial team thinks is special. But you have to ask: who’re they to judge?

People collect magazines—well, anything—for numerous reasons. It’s certainly possible that a magazine marked “Collectors Edition” could have some value in the years to come, especially if there was a limited print-run and/or special features that appeal to a particular collector. Yet it’s less likely to happen, not least because a larger number of people are likely to take the claim at face value, keep their copies and so help undermine its scarcity factor.

I’m pretty sure that the elder statesman of UK listings magazines, Radio Times, has never put “Collectors Edition” on its cover—Internet, prove me wrong!—even though many of its issues since September 1923 are definitely collectable. For a variety of reasons—not just because of the programmes listed but also the wider culture glimpsed through the advertisements it carried—I enjoy collecting past editions. To help keep the inevitable storage issues under control, however, I’ve restricted myself to (a) issues published during my lifetime and (b) just one “representative” issue per calendar year. Thanks largely to eBay, I’ve rapidly built up my collection to the extent that I’m considering extending it further back into the magazine’s history.

But here’s one thing I’ve decided; if I do start collecting issues published pre-1964, my “representative” issue for 1953 will not be the “Coronation Number”. Yes, I’ve seen that listed as “highly collectable”—which, if you’re into Coronation memorabilia or anything to do with the British Royal Family, is quite possible. Yet its relative ubiquity—I’m guessing, rather a lot of people at the time decided on it as an inexpensive keepsake—actually makes it far less collectable in my eyes. Honestly, I’d much rather own a copy of any of the other 51 issues published that year—not least because they’ll be slightly more of a challenge to find.

Let’s be honest—isn’t having to put some effort into collecting part of the fun?