Collector's Guide to Vintage Porn Magazines

Vintage adult magazines have emerged as a particularly collectible form of erotica in recent years. Other types of tangible erotic media such as 8mm films, VHS tapes, and DVDs have more limited appeal considering that they are dependent on specific technology for viewing, and are therefore subject to obsolescence. Magazines, on the other hand, do not require any device to view and generally last longer and endure in better condition. This has led to an increase in demand and an upward pricing trend, especially for more scarce and sought-after titles. This guide is intended to provide an introduction to the art and science of collecting vintage adult magazines, describing the different types of magazines and the major factors that contribute to their value and desirability.

Newsstand vs. Adult Bookstore

The first major delineation depends on the type of distribution by which the magazine reached its consumers. Magazines that were primarily distributed through mainstream newsstands and home-delivery subscriptions include the most well-known titles such as Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, High Society, Club, Swank, Velvet, etc. They were typically published monthly and had long publishing runs, some lasting several decades. Some are still being produced today, although many titles have gone out of business in recent years, mainly due to competition from the Internet. These newsstand magazines are distinct from magazines that were only available for sale in specialty adult bookstores and by mail order. These latter types of magazines were issued in more limited quantities and with less visibility to the general public, with little (if any) attention paid by the censors.

(Note that in the United States, official government censorship generally took the form of post-hoc raids or prosecutions, after the offending magazine had already been produced and had entered circulation, and were quite rare occurrences. By far the most prevalent form of censorship in adult magazines was performed by the publishers or distributors of the magazines themselves, to avoid the mere potential for prosecution. If a local newsstand owner felt that a particular issue was too risque for his community, he would simply not carry or display that issue. Publishers of newsstand magazines therefore often printed different versions of the same magazine for distribution in different cities or areas of the country, based on the perceived tolerance for the content in a given community. Sometimes they would place black dots or bars over certain parts of photos, or even black out whole images or pages depending on the arbitrarily-devised standard for a particular locale. This type of self-censorship was prevalent mainly in newsstand magazines, and was much less common in the adult bookstore type.)

The primary characteristics that distinguish newsstand from adult bookstore magazines are as follows:

Content The main differentiator between newsstand and adult bookstore magazines is that newsstand magazines are mainly financed by advertising, which can be quite extensive. Adult bookstore magazines have little or no advertising in them; if at all, they might include a page listing similar magazines for sale from the same publisher.

Quality Adult bookstore magazines are generally of higher quality than newsstand magazines. The paper is typically heavier and glossier. The printing is better, with higher resolution and better color registration.

Cover Imagery Newsstand magazines need to be displayed to the public, so their covers generally do not show full nudity. Magazines from the U.K. and some earlier U.S. magazines might have topless women on their covers, but almost never show genitalia or public hair. Magazines of the adult bookstore type do not have the same constraints since they are sold only in stores with access limited to adult consumers of pornography, so their covers often display more explicit imagery.

Cover Price The cover prices of adult bookstore magazines are relatively higher than those of newsstand magazines from the same time period. Adult bookstore magazines are usually priced in whole numbers only ($10, $35, $50) whereas newsstand magazines carry more typical retail prices ($2.50, $4.95, $6.99). Sometimes adult bookstore magazines have no cover prices at all, or the price might be listed on a sticker affixed to the magazine rather than printed on the cover.

Prevalence Newsstand magazines are much more common than adult bookstore magazines, and this is the main factor that contributes to their significantly lower value. For example, Playboy’s circulation reached over 7 million in the 1970s. That means there are an awful lot of Playboy magazines still out there. Since they are so common, their resale value is low. The situation is similar with Penthouse, Hustler, and other top-tier newsstand magazines. Niche newsstand titles such as Juggs, Gem, Buf, Leg Show, etc. are less common and therefore have a higher value to certain collectors today.

Hardcore vs. Softcore

A second major distinction between types of magazines is made on the basis of whether they contain “hardcore” or “software” content. Although there is no precise standard that specifies which particular acts or depictions determine whether a given image is hardcore or softcore, as commonly used in the trade, hardcore generally refers to material that explicitly shows penile-oral, penile-vaginal, or penile-anal penetration. Softcore denotes material which does not show penetration, i.e. images which do not depict sex, or in which the sex is simulated, or in which actual sex is being performed but the pentration is obscured. Subject to debate are depictions of lesbian sex which involve explicit oral-genital contact and/or penetration with fingers or sex toys, which some might classify as hardcore but others may consider softcore (presumably due to the absence of a penis in the image). Also, some types of fetish, bondage/discipline and sadomasochistic (BDSM) content may be considered “hardcore” due to its extreme nature, even if it doesn’t include explicit penetration. We generally categorize Fetish/BDSM content separately to avoid arbitrarily subjective judgments about whether it qualifies as hardcore or softcore.

All newsstand magazines produced in the U.S. and U.K. before 1997 contain only softcore content, so this is another defining characteristic of newsstand magazines. (Competitive pressure from the Internet, coupled with a cultural trend toward more liberal sexual attitudes and a decline in obscenity prosecutions, led to the gradual introduction of hardcore content into newsstand magazines beginning in 1997.)

Among magazines of the adult bookstore type, both hardcore and softcore are common from the 1970s onward. The earliest examples of hardcore magazines commercially produced for the American market date from the early 1970s. The photographs in these early magazines are typically accompanied by “educational” text in order to provide the magazine with “socially redeeming value” which was necessary to meet the legal test to demonstrate that it was not obscene. By the mid-1970s the pretense of “educational” erotica was largely abandoned in favor of less text-intensive presentations. Hardcore content appeared in European magazines earlier than in the U.S., from about the mid-1960s. Before the introduction of hardcore, magazines were exclusively softcore, with the possible exception of underground, amateur-produced hardcore, now extremely rare.

Even after the introduction of hardcore, however, softcore magazines continued to be popular. Many softcore magazines exclusively feature photographs of individual nudes, either in provocative poses or engaging in masturbatory activity. Often they focus on particular themes or fetishes such as large breasts, long legs/stockings, shaved genitals, sex toys, etc. So-called “lesbian” magazines (generally targeted to straight male consumers) depict women posing with each other and often engaged in varying degrees of sexual activity. Another category that persisted even after the introduction of hardcore is heterosexual softcore, in which couples or mixed-sex groups pose nude or engage in simulated sexual activity but do not show explicit penetration. A common feature of this type of softcore is that penises are almost always depicted as flaccid, which might strike us as comical today but at the time was thought to be a defense against prosecution for obscenity.

Straight vs. Gay

Pornography, especially vintage pornography, is primarily intended for a male audience. This is not to say that women don’t purchase or enjoy this material, but the main focus is on the male consumer. The market is further segmented into “straight” and “gay” categories. Straight porn, targeted toward heterosexual men, depicts solo female, female-female, and male-female sex, whereas gay porn features solo male and male-male sex. Many publishers produce both types of magazines, although sometimes under different imprints or brand names. However, since the market for gay porn is generally smaller, much less gay porn has been produced and it is therefore more scarce today, which also makes it more valuable. Smaller still is the category of true “lesbian” porn (actually produced for a female audience), the most notable example of which being the newsstand periodical On Our Backs which ran from 1984-2006.

Famous Stars or Models

One of the most significant determinants of a magazine’s value is whether it features particular models or adult film stars whose images are highly sought-after by collectors. Roberta Pedon, Nancy Suiter, Kandi Barbour, Marie Sharp, and Christy Canyon are all big names which add significant value to magazines in which they appear. They weren’t necessarily the most popular stars in their day (with the exception of Christy Canyon, perhaps) but they all had a particular quality which attracts collectors to this day. Another desirable actress is Traci Lords, whose notoriety stems from the fact that she appeared in most of her films and photo spreads while underage. Because of this, magazines featuring her are not widely available in the market, and the resulting scarcity drives up prices.

Age and Scarcity

In general, all other things being equal, older magazines and rarer magazines have greater value. Adult bookstore-type magazines from the late 1960s through the early 1990s are generally the most desired by collectors.

Publishing Formats

Vintage erotic magazines come in a varety of formats, with the following characteristics:

Size Standard 8½ x 11″ full-size magazines are most prevalent in the U.S., whereas digest-sized magazines (6 x 9″ or 7 x 10″) are more popular in Europe.

Color Newer and more expensive magazines are printed in full color, but many older magazines are mostly in black & white, with a smaller number of color pages. A very common format in the 1970s and 1980s is a magazine of 48 pages, with the covers and 6 of the inside pages in full color, and the rest in black & white.

Binding Stapled binding is most common, but square-bound (glued instead of stapled) magazines may also be found, particularly in the adult-bookstore type with higher page counts.

Number of Pages The most common formats are 32, 36, and 48 pages (staple-bound). Square-bound magazines with 52, 68, or 100 pages (or more) fetch a premium.

Condition

There is no universal standard for the trade, but we have established the following Grading Scale for all of our listings:

Near Mint – A nearly perfect magazine, in brand new condition. Almost impossible to find.

Very Fine – A magazine in nearly new condition, 100% intact and with very few, minor flaws.

Fine – Almost new condition, but with minor wear, minor flaws, and/or slight damage.

Very Good – Standard used condition, with some handling wear and/or minor damage.

Good – Used but still intact, with handling wear and/or more signifciant flaws or damage.

Fair – Acceptable but with heavy wear or significant damage.

Poor – Magazines with loose or missing pages, missing covers, large tears or cutouts, heavy moisture, corrosion, or other damage. We generally do not list magazines of this condition except in special circumstances.

Factors affecting condition may include:

– price stickers or inventory stickers on front or back covers
– sticker residue (left where a sticker was removed)
– marks including writing or ink stamps on covers or inside pages
– embossed cover (a round impression about 1″ in diameter made by the retailer as an inventory control measure)
– corner cut off or hole punched through the magazine (indicating remaindered stock)
– bends, creases, and/or wrinkles
– tears (may be repaired with tape)
– staple pull (the cover has been slightly pulled away from the staples so they are “indented” from the edge somewhat)
– split spine (front cover is partially separated from the back cover along the spine)
– spine wear or cracking (small “cracks” or creases along the spine, perpendicular to the edge)
– spine roll/warping/rippling (usually caused by not being stored flat)
– rubbing (visible wear to the printed surface of the cover caused by friction)
– soiling or corrosion due to environmental contaminants
– cigarette smoke residue (scent and/or yellowing)
– moisture damage (usually resulting in warping or rippling)
– adhesion damage (when the printed surface of the paper has been lifted due to a sticker being removed or the magazine being stuck to another magazine)
– pages stuck together (due to ink or printing defect)
    NOTE: we do not list magazines with any suspected “biological” contamination!
– printing defects (color registration, streaking, duplicate pages, etc.)

When any of these factors are present in a magazine, we clearly indicate them along with the overall condition, noting the dimensions (if applicable) and severity (slight, minor, moderate, significant, or heavy) of each specific defect. We gladly accept returns for any magazine which does not match our advertised condition or contains flaws/damage not disclosed in the original listing.