For many years, subscribers waited with bated breath to see what the new week's The Saturday Evening Post cover was going to be. Conceived by iconic artists, these covers have helped define America's style in the early 20th century. The art is just as moving today as it was a 100 years ago, and the magazines' value continues to climb. As millions of Americans subscribed, your grandparents or great-grandparents just might have a few valuable copies stashed away.
What Is the Saturday Evening Post?
When people think about The Saturday Evening Post, most envision the wholesome all-American illustrations that splashed across each issue. Yet, this iconic periodical we know best from the early and mid-20th century is one of the oldest magazines in the United States. The magazine, which has deep Philadelphia roots, published its first issue on August 4, 1821.
The late 1800s was a precarious time for the Post, and a new owner and investor sank $1 million dollars (about $35 million today) into completely overhauling it. His investment paid off, and by the early aughts, there were one million subscribers. While the Post was a great bi-weekly periodical full of entertainment and news, it's the colored illustration covers that really drew people in, and continue to draw collectors in today.
The Truth Behind The Saturday Evening Post Covers
Famously, two different artists defined The Saturday Evening Posts' illustration style, helping both of them become titans in the illustration and advertising industry. J.C. Leyendecker was the first known for creating soft-colored and delicately stylized illustrations that were immediately recognizable. His protégé, Norman Rockwell, defined an artistic period with his intimate and glinting portrayals of American life.
However, something most people don't realize is that the artists didn't draw and color these covers into a magazine-sized scale. Rather, every single cover of The Saturday Evening Post that Leyendecker and Rockwell created was made full-scale using oil paint on canvas. Every two weeks, these artists submitted full-sized works to be reprinted on paper on a smaller scale.
Thus, the million-dollar price tags you occasionally see come out of arts and culture auctions aren't the paper copies of the magazine that you might have stowed away, but rather, these full-sized works of art.
Most Valuable Saturday Evening Post Cover Paintings
The most valuable Saturday Evening Post covers are oil and canvas originals of the famous printed illustrations. You can find these paintings in private collections and museums, and sometimes they come to a public auction where collectors' bids reach six figures. These are some of the most expensive Saturday Evening Post cover paintings to be sold:
- The November 24, 1945 "Home for Thanksgiving" cover by Norman Rockwell sold for $4,305,000.
- The November 21, 1914 "Beat-Up Boy, Football Hero" cover by J.C. Leyendecker sold for $4,121,250.
- The January 31, 1931 "Girl Choosing a Hat" cover by Norman Rockwell sold for $1,205,000.
- The September 6, 1919 "Lazybones" cover by Norman Rockwell sold for $912,500.
- The May 29, 1926 "Ben Franklin's Sesquicentennial" cover sold for $762,500.
Valuable Saturday Evening Post Covers You Can Find Today
Although you probably won't uncover one of the original cover paintings in your attic, there's a much better chance that you can find a stack of these magazines tucked away in a trunk or box of old things. The most valuable Post magazines can sell for about $100-$500, on average. Finding copies with a little damage doesn't really detract from their value so long as they're complete and fully readable.
Additionally, the earlier the copy, the more money you can get for it. Issues from the 1910s and 1920s are worth the most because they feature the beautiful artwork from Leyendecker and Rockwell and they're hard to find.
Check out these copies that have recently sold in a few online auctions:
- This stellar copy of the August 23, 1919 issue featuring Leyendecker's "Lifeguard" cover sold on eBay for $699.99.
- Another coveted issue is the "Alcoholic Anonymous" cover that was released on March 1, 1941. One well-kept copy sold for $501.
- This August 28, 1920, issue with a whimsical illustration of a girl's dress flapping in the wind, titled "Carnival Wind Fun" recently sold for $299.99 on eBay.
How to Keep Your Old Saturday Evening Posts Preserved
The most important thing for old paper collectibles is keeping them well preserved since they can easily degrade. While you can mount and frame an entire issue of The Saturday Evening Post, it's not the most protective option if sunlight can reach the pages. To avoid any sun, water, and insect damage, store them in acid-free tissue paper housed in an acid-free cardboard box. This makes sure they keep their value and stay as pretty as the day they were printed.
Pair Historic Reading With a Saturday Night
For many, there's no better way to spend a Saturday night than flipping through an old copy of The Saturday Evening Post. Twentieth century magazines offer a tangible insight into how our family members used to live. The Saturday Evening Post covers connect to people for this exact reason, and they'll likely continue to be a popular collectible for many years to come.