Many collectors become quite obsessed in obtaining things others often see as obscure at best. But if you thought you were obsessed, here's a measure of true collecting obsession. From opulence and obsession to debt and despair, the exhibition Edward Harley: The Great Collector tracked the fortunes of the 2nd Earl of Oxford, exploring Edward Harley’s background, family and marriage through his spectacular collections of art, fine books, manuscripts, documents and other items including a selection of his 350,000 pamphlets!
The son of one of the most powerful politicians in the country, Edward Harley married Henrietta Cavendish-Holles - the wealthiest heiress in Britain. Harley filled his family’s home with a hubbub of activity – writers, poets, artists, bibliophiles would be regular visitors. He was a dedicated collector; his collections were extensive and extravagant as he passionately sourced the rarest and most beautiful things. His wealth gradually dwindled, yet Harley continued to add to his collections, often driving up the price of objects in his lust for ownership.
In this obsessive collecting, Harley bankrupted himself and spent much of his wife’s fortune, eventually selling his family home and his collections to pay his debts. At his death in 1741, Edward Harley’s library contained 50,000 printed books, 7,639 manuscripts, 14,236 rolls and legal documents, 350,000 pamphlets and 41,000 prints. Harley’s manuscript collection was sold to the nation after his death to pay his remaining debts, at a price far less than he had paid. These manuscripts formed the basis for the British Library, still known as the Harleian Collection.
The move away from print publications began in ernest when Newsweek, the current affairs magazine with a readership that once peaked at 3 million, became the first big brand to take the decision to cease publishing in print and to go digital only. Its final print issue was the one available on newsstands for the last time on 31st December 2012. As a very prominent publication worldwide, published for 79 years, it was a hugely significant sign of things to come.
Publishers had long seen the Internet as the way to break the stifling restrictions on sales and profits imposed by ever-increasing print and distribution costs and the wastage of printed editions. Reports put the cost of printing and distributing Newsweek at $40 million annually - and that doesn't include the fixed costs of staff, offices and other expenses. But the Internet alone couldn't force the change. The breakthrough was the sudden rise in the quality, popularity and affordability of tablets and large screen smartphone devices. The consumer found a way to read a publication that mimicks the feel and convenience of holding a magazine or newspaper. Suddenly it all came together. The benefits are tangible, the reading experience good, and the only way I've seen it possible to play a video clip from the page of a printed magazine is in the Harry Potter movies. The digital package is complete and the consumer now wants to buy into it.
Some have written up the move to digital as if it were somehow unwelcome by the publishers, one reporting that "The decision to go all-digital underscores the problems faced by newsweeklies, as more consumers favor tablets and mobile devices over print." But as I see it, the publishers have been desperate to dump the old ways and get online - unless, that is, they run a lucrative distribution business! They had been restrained by two factors; how to charge for online content, and how to provide a consumer reading experience close to that of holding a printed copy.
Back in the July before the move to being fully online, Barry Diller, Newsweek's owner, had gone on record bemoaning the costs of producing magazines in print. It was played down at the time but was the sign of things to come and, in a recent interview with Reuters, editor-in-chief Tina Brown said, "When I returned to print with Newsweek, it did very quickly begin to feel to me (like) an outmoded medium." Brown continued, "While I still had a great romance for it, nonetheless I feel this is not the right medium anymore to produce journalism."
It's certainly a view I'd held for a long time. Indeed, when I was in the print publication industry while the Internet was still in its infancy, for me the writing, figuratively speaking, was already on the wall. The costs, time and allround craziness of printing, flying and driving hundreds of tons of paper around the world, and inevitably pulping lots of printed copies seemed mind-blowingly wasteful and inefficient.
Newsweek became a subscription-based digital publication under the name of Newsweek Global. You have to wonder what in time will be the difference between a website that has good contributors writing timely, well researched, accurate copy, and a digital version of an established magazine. 'Going digital' means it becomes ten thousand times more viable for a small, niche publisher to take on the 'big boys'. What we've seen happen in the music business may be coming the way of the publishing industry. The very thing that the traditional publisher hates is also the very thing that has helped keep big name publications up there - the frightening investment facing any competitor who wanted to take them on. [Kevin O'Byrne, Magazine Collector, original story revised Feb 2017. Original story published Oct 2012, source: Reuters]
An original first edition (Volume 1, #1) of Playboy published December 1953, featuring Marilyn Monroe, sold for US $5,017.17 (around £3,000) via a 10-day eBay auction in November 2009. With a starting price of just $9.99, it attracted 50 bids.
The 42 page copy - which came from an American estate - was in good condition, with only what was described as minor wear to the corners, a couple of light finger print smudges on front cover and a couple of dents at the top of the back cover. Good spine and original staples. Centerfold intact and in great shape. Overall given "a strong 8 out of 1-10" by the seller and "not mint but about as good as it gets". It's perhaps a prime example of what makes a magazine collectible and worth a considerable amount of money, potentially, to the right buyer. Being a first issue of such a well-known magazine would have attracted a high price anyway, but add to that the featured "Sweetheart of the Month" being Marilyn Monroe and it takes on a significant extra dimension as a collectible.
Additionally, this copy had a red star printed on the cover close to the P of Playboy. Very few of these were printed, making them even rarer than a normal first edition. It put this copy into the stratosphere of collectible magazines.
Clearly this isn't typical of what you might expect to get for a vintage issue of Playboy or any other magazine you may uncover yourself (though Playboy is certainly one of the more collectible brands). Here you have the combination of factors - a vintage magazine in very good condition, a much sought after brand (Playboy), a first edition, an iconic character on the cover and featured (Monroe), an added rarity factor (the 'red star' issue) and currently probably the best method of attracting buyers (online via eBay) to get the price up. As for the price, some will say it's crazy, others will kick themselves that they missed the auction as they might have paid double! Like most collectibles, what someone is willing to pay seldom bears a relationship with any tangible value the item once had! [Kevin O'Byrne]