How to Earn Extra Money With Old Magazines and a Pair of Scissors

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I once sold a stack of old “National Geographic” magazines at a rummage sale for a few bucks. Now I wonder if I gave up an opportunity for a much bigger profit.

Why? I’ve since learned a smarter way to make money with old magazines. It starts with a pair of scissors — but we’ll get to that in a moment.

People get nostalgic when they see old magazines, especially issues featuring specific events — like a royal wedding. Or from meaningful dates — like birthdays and anniversaries.

Because of this nostalgia, they’re willing to pay for them. In fact, I searched “old magazines” on eBay and saw over 30,000 results! When I sorted by bidding action, the following three listings topped the page:

  • 11 “Good Old Days” 1965 magazines in newspaper form. Highest of 27 bids: $50.36
  • “Sports Afield” January 1939 and “Field & Stream” 1940 with an article on Clark Gable. Highest of four bids: $11.00
  • 1955 “Modern Man” magazine (nude Betty Page and Marilyn Monroe photos). Highest of two bids: $20.49

OK. These look pretty good. If you find a big stash in your grandpa’s attic, you might make a nice chunk of change, but you won’t get rich with most old magazines.

If you want to earn even more from your old reading material, read on.

How to Make the Most Money From Vintage Magazines

Turns out, you might make a lot more money cutting up those magazines than selling them whole. The old advertisements inside are sometimes more valuable than the magazine itself.

Michael Franco of Pick 4 Profit says he makes money with vintage ads by putting them in plastic sheet covers or dollar-store frames and selling them online and at flea markets

He suggests displaying them in an antique booth or at flea markets.

“People will drop $5 to $10 for one ad,” he says.

For an ad that “really stands out,” Franco suggests buying an 8-by-10-inch photo frame at the dollar store to display it. You could “sell those for $15 to $20,” he says.

Franco says these types of advertisements are easiest to sell:

  • Vintage cars
  • Trains
  • Alcohol
  • Food
  • Guns
  • Sports-related items
  • Mid-century modern furniture

The magazines don’t even have to be that old, nor the ads flashy.

On his website, Franco displays a Nike ad from a 1990s Chicago newspaper. It features Michael Jordan and Spike Lee — he sold it on eBay for $23. He also displays one he sold at his antique booth for $12. It featured a Paul McCobb chair, and he cut it from an old grocery store magazine.

Franco certainly isn’t the only one doing this.

Kevin O’Hara, a British picker, says he made $480 from one magazine. It was a 1957 copy of U.K. Vogue he bought for about $27. It  had over 150 advertisements. He suggests you buy famous magazines from the 1980s or older on eBay, and start clipping.

Other places to find old magazines include:

  • Used book stores
  • Library sales
  • Rummage sales
  • Thrift stores
  • Flea markets
  • Antique shops
  • Attics
  • Basements

How Much Money Can You Really Make Selling Ads?

To see whether these pickers’ experiences are easily replicable, I went to eBay again and searched “vintage ads.” I narrowed the 200,000 results down to 8,400 by clicking “Auction” and sorted by “Number of bids: Most first.” I found these:

  • Monarch Coffee ad from a 1924 “Ladies Home Journal.” Highest of five bids: $3.01
  • Lucille Ball RC Crown Cola ad. Highest of five bids: $7.50
  • Farrah Fawcett Wella Balsam Shampoo ad from 1977: Highest of three bids: $11.50

Making a $3 or $11 sale may not sound like much. But these are single pages torn from a magazine, and none of them were framed. Plus, the $4 to $6 the sellers were getting for shipping is probably an additional profit, because it doesn’t cost much to mail a piece of paper.

How to Sell Your Vintage Ads

Ready to get started? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • If you want to sell online, setting up a new account on eBay is easy enough. Good photos of your ads are also easy to create with just about any digital camera.
  • Check current auctions to get an idea of pricing before setting your price or minimum bid. You might want to experiment with selling just the ads versus framing them first to see which brings in more cash.
  • If you sell at flea markets, a frame is probably a good idea. A guy buying an old car ad for his man cave probably wants to be able to hang it on the wall as soon as he gets home.
  • If you know an antique store that accepts consignments, the owner might be interested in your vintage ads as well. However, you’ll probably pay half of each sale as a commission.

Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).