Valuing Life | Newberry

Valuing Life

Years ago, someone brought me that special issue of Life magazine featuring Pablo Picasso. I believe I charged six hundred dollars for it. No, this is not a call for you to rush to the basement and find your copy. This was kind of a special case. Someone brought this one to Picasso, who had taken a brush and painted his name across the cover with black paint. If you have one like THAT, do drop it off without delay. Without the autograph, I sell that issue for a dollar. (There’s a great foldout of a Campbell’s Soup kid just behind Picasso. That ALONE ought to be worth the buck.)

I noticed, skipping through back blogs, that about a year ago I mentioned that certain issues of Life magazine are worth more than the buck we usually charge here at the Book Fair. (PLEASE, when sorting through the collectible magazine boxes under the table, to check the price. When I’m in the mood I will charge TWO dollars for some of the classic World War II issues.) I will list some of these for you, but you need to keep in mind that if your family’s stack of Life has been in the basement for sixty years, and has passed through a couple of floods and that time in 2007 when the sewer backed up, the price will probably still be only a buck, even for these issues.

Once upon a time, the March 11, 1966 issue, which featured Adam West as television’s Batman, was one of the choicest issues. I mentioned the phenomenon of the generational collectible, and how as generations move on, the price of the collectible drops. This issue can still fetch twenty or thirty bucks, but no longer reaches into three figures, which nice copies of issues with, say, Judy Garland on the cover can.

The cover is often the determining factor: everyone still wants the April 7, 1952 issue, with the iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe on the front, and Audrey Hepburn’s really, really short jammies make the cover of the December 7, 1953 issue suitable for framing (and buying.)

Other times, it’s an article inside which has caused the uptick in the price. The August 8, 1949 cover shows an attractive model showing off the new fashion in straw hats. Inside this issue is an article which made Jackson Pollock the most talked-about artist in the United States, and set off a massive debate on his “drip” paintings. Some art history buffs will pay a hundred dollars for this. (If you have the August 1 issue, which only had Joe DiMaggio on the cover, that’ll get you twenty—DiMaggio fans like it, but really want that May 1, 1939 issue with him on the front.) Similarly, the May 13, 1957 issue features Bert Lahr on the cover, and people who would not like a good photo of Bert Lahr are not worth knowing. But what puts this issue in the three-figure range is an article inside on mushrooms which produced visions, a matter of great interest over the next couple of decades.

The September 1, 1952 issue broke with the tradition of more text than photos with publication of a new novel. The author, Ernest Hemingway, is featured on the cover, but it’s the first appearance in print of The Old Man and the Sea which makes people clamor for the issue. And no one pretends that there’s anything remarkably interesting about the cover and contents of the November 23, 1936 issue: though the cover is by Margaret Bourke-White, and the stories inside are not shabby, people want this issue because it was the first.

Yes, you may have seen some of these at the Book Fair for a buck. Remember what I said about condition? If your grandparents tore out the article about Jackson Pollock, stapled it together, and then tucked it back inside, the price plummets. That elusive odor of cat litter kind of grinds the price down as well. Oh, and the wildly collectible issue of April 13, 1962, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the cover? Well, people want it for the baseball cards bound inside, and if your parents pulled out the Willie Mays and Roger Maris cards…well, maybe they were too young to care about your retirement fund in those days.

There IS one issue of Life which is collectible in nearly any condition, and you may want to check, though the odds are you don’t have it. It’s the November 29, 1963 issue with Heisman Trophy Winner Roger Staubach on the cover. The reason you don’t have it is that just after it was printed, it was called back and completely redone with a new cover.

What YOU have is the replacement November 29, 1963 issue, the John F. Kennedy Memorial. So does everybody else.

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