Recently, a reader came across a copy of the first issue of Playboy magazine. Presumably, it wasn’t discovered hidden under the bed of a teenage boy. The question the reader posed to us is: Does the first issue of Playboy have any value?
Answer: Hugh Hefner was working as a promotion copywriter at Esquire magazine in Chicago when the magazine decided to move its offices to New York. Hefner decided to stay behind and start a magazine of his own.
The first issue of Playboy appeared in December 1953 with a cover price of 50 cents and Marilyn Monroe on the cover. Monroe had not posed for the magazine, but Hefner bought the famous nude photo by Tom Kelley from the John Baumgarth Calendar Company.
Hefner initially called the picture featured inside “Sweetheart of the Month.” It soon morphed into “Playmate of the Month.” Hefner, who died in 2017 at age 91, said he created the magazine with the goal of featuring “the girl next door.” For some, becoming a Playboy Playmate was the starting point of a celebrity career. By the 1980s, already famous actresses and entertainers including Bo Derek, Madonna and Drew Barrymore viewed appearing nude in Playboy as a way to promote, rather than hinder, their careers. As the joke goes, Playboy was indeed known for its interviews. Among the more memorable ones included a 1962 interview with Miles Davis by Alex Haley; one with Vladimir Nabokov in 1964; one with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1980, shortly before his death; and a 1976 chat with Jimmy Carter, then a presidential candidate, in which he famously said “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust.”
You’ll notice that the first issue is undated. That’s because Hefner was unsure if there would be a second. He need not have worried. About 54,000 copies of the first issue were printed. It sold out in weeks. The magazine reached a high circulation of 5.6 million in 1975. In 1970, Playboy became the first gentleman’s magazine to be printed in braille. In addition to Marilyn Monroe, the first issue included a Big Band / Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey article, an article on college football legend Red Grange, plus Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fiction (Sherlock Holmes).
Depending on condition, your magazine could be worth anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars. An extremely rare, near-mint issue of the magazine professionally graded at 9.4 on a 10-point scale by CGC sold for $120,000 at Heritage Auctions in March 2023.