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Old National Geographics stack up as tough sell

Colfax-area woman finding it hard to find good home for more than 1,000 of the venerable magazines
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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One joke portrays the continually building collection of National Geographic magazines as a national disaster waiting to be unleashed from attics above – with just one more edition piled on the growing stacks leading to cave-ins around the country. A cartoon shows piles of magazines that have fallen from an attic onto a couple sitting in a bed. “You and your National Geographics,” the disgruntled wife says to the husband. And so it goes with a magazine ostensibly too beautiful and valuable for the generations to come – but one that’s been building in basements, garages, closets attics, nooks and crannies over the past 131 years the venerable National Geographic Society has been publishing. Cathryn Rogers, a 22-year Colfax-area resident, fell in love with the thick, glossy pages of the magazine while a high-school student in a Southern town during the 1960s. She read them voraciously during a study period one semester and they took her places and to past times that stirred her imagination. There were as-it-happens accounts of the 1920s discoveries of the King Tut treasure and the “Indiana Jones” adventures in the 1930s of paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews in the Gobi Desert. There were stories of Sir Edmund Hillary’s quest to climb Mount Everest. And – sandwiching the stories – always a journey into the Madison Avenue minds of other eras on the pages and pages of advertisements. As an adult, Rogers started collecting the magazines and eventually amassed a collection covering from 1906 to the present, with just a few editions missing from the 1940s and 1950s. With an eye on downsizing and possible selling her antique-decorated house, Rogers has attempted to find a good home for her prized collection. But there have been no takers, so far. It seems no one is interested in what now amounts to two pallets of boxes filled with the monthly magazines. Libraries won’t take them, she has found out. The Friends of the Auburn Library monthly book sale, for instance, has a sign letting donors know that the non-profit won’t accept them. Michael Otten, a member of the county library advisory board from Auburn, said some of the older or bound National Geographics are still being accepted but it seems everyone who wants the magazine already has enough copies. The number of National Geographics being given away really increased when CD’s containing all past editions started to be sold and people decided they didn’t need the paper product, he said. “We just got bombarded with them,” he said, adding the library annex has limited storage capacity. A classified ad earlier this month resulted in a single caller looking for a single edition. And book sellers and buyers like Winston Smith Books in Downtown Auburn won’t buy them or take them. In fact, in some quarters the magazines have been known as the Golden Blight for their growing omnipresence in people’s homes. “I think there’s a bookstore in Berkeley that might have some …” said Winston Smith’s James Van Eaton, who can remember a day when E.V. Cain students could pick up free copies for reading or art projects at the nearby library annex, where the book sale takes place. In the used-book business for the past decade, Eaton said he often sees people trying to sell them but very few willing to buy – unless it’s a single, specific issue. Van Eaton said that lack of interest is increasingly symptomatic of a move over to the Internet and away from reference publications, particularly children’s editions. “We reduced that section in the store because the demand was no longer there,” he said. “Hopefully, they’re going to something better than Wikipedia.” Rogers graduated from high school at age 15, served in the Army and later earned electrical and mechanical engineering degrees. She’s built replicas of matchlock and wheel-lock firearms from the 1600s, participates in Renaissance fairs and collects everything from vintage motorcycles to books. And she continues to value a magazine that she holds out hope will be of worth to someone else. She estimates a recycler would probably pay about $50 for the collection. She’s willing to negotiate a price with someone who would give the collection a welcome place in their home. Thumbing through the pages of yellow-covered classic editions from the early 20th century, Rogers sees continuing value from a magazine that was eagerly awaited and welcomed in homes during the days before television and even before radio. They opened the world to Rogers and millions of other readers and now the world is shutting the book on them, it seems. “National Geographic is not an ordinary magazine,” Rogers said. “And I really can’t convince myself to throw them out.” Rogers can be contacted at clrogers@cebridge.net.