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Seeking National Geographic Values

September 12, 1985|RONALD L. SOBLE | Times Staff Writer

Question: I know you've answered this before, but I need some guidance on the value of National Geographic issues. I have some in my collection that date back to the early part of this century and want to know their approximate value.--D.S.

Answer: You should check with more than one dealer before attempting to ascertain approximate value. Condition, of course, is one major factor that will help determine your collection's value.

National Geographics appear to be ubiquitous to the extent that almost everyone seems to have an old stack tucked away in their attic. Naturally, if you have some of the earliest editions, they'll usually retain a high value. An October, 1888, Vol. 1, No. 1, issue, according to some of our catalogues, has sold for as much as $4,000. Pre-1900 issues have ranged from $20 to above $400 each.

Interestingly, although later issues have only brought a few dollars a copy, collectors specializing in Americana have paid more--$50 and up, according to dealers--for National Geographics that featured, for example, Coca-Cola ads on the back cover or that have early automotive-industry ads of cars, some of which are no longer in production.

So there is value in old National Geographics beyond the simple age of the issue, particularly among collectors searching for examples of the American life style of many years ago.

Q: How does one authenticate genuine American folk art with so many fakes on the market these days? Folk-art collectibles often carry high price tags, and I don't want to get burned. --R.T.

A: Early Americana is a popular subject among collectors and has produced more than its share of fakes involving a wide range of items from kitchen utensils to farm implements.

Usually, when dealing with fakes, the counterfeiter will attempt to produce an item that "looks" old in an effort to camouflage recent production. The collector who has done some homework in terms of original materials and design is in a position to usually spot such fakes.

One way of dating an item is to look for tool marks. On a wooden item, for example, straight saw marks would indicate that the item was made with the help of a handsaw; but if the saw left curved marks, then a circular saw was probably used, a tool that did not become popular until the mid-18th Century.

Also observe the hardware that was used to put together an early piece such as a chair. Americana collectors look for the shape of nails and screws, for example, which tell them the approximate date of manufacture. Nails that were hand-forged were used until the early 19th Century and have an uneven quality about them. But then machine-cut nails began being mass produced, and they have uniform heads and bodies.

Having said this, producing a fake has become big money in the area of collectibles, and the fakers have come up with clever schemes of aging "antiques." So before you part with a chunk of your savings, do some homework, and talk with collectors as well as attending dealer shows and flea markets.

Q: For purposes of identifying a flag of mine, what was the date of production of the Grand Union flag?--A.W.

A: The Continental or Grand Union flag appears to have been first unfurled in Boston in January, 1776. It showed 13 stripes with a British Union Jack in the corner. To possess a flag of that year would indeed be a find. For further information, contact: Flag Research Center, 3 Edgehill Road, Winchester, Mass. 01890.

Ronald L. Soble cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about collectibles. Do not telephone. Write to Your Collectibles, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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