Old National Geographic Magazines: Trash or Time Capsule?

November 24, 2007 — 114 Comments

1939 National Geographic Space CoverOne of the joys of caring for aging parents (or in-laws) is that often as the inevitable downsizing begins, you get their stuff. This might be cool if 99% of it weren’t junk. Ancient tools, stacks of picture frames, geological surveys from 1950–you get the picture.

But then, every so often something interesting pops up.

This is the case with the hundreds of boxed National Geographic Magazines Margaret and Conrad gave us a couple of years ago. Despite their the cool pictures and somewhat historical nature, they’re not worth anything–believe me, I checked. But you can’t help but keep them. They’re just so darned neat. Many of the pictures are stunning, and the stories are still fascinating–especially if you look at them like an artifact.

After awhile though, the novelty runs out and you realize you can’t keep hundreds of old magazines in your garage forever.

And then you find a 1939 issue that includes a 32 page story entitled “NEWS OF THE UNIVERSE”. So what did we know about space in 1939?

Well, for one thing–using water melting from its polar ice caps, green green vegetation flourished seasonally on Mars.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to share some of the photos and illustrations from that article. I kept the pictures in order as they appeared in the story.

So without further ado:

1939 National Geographic Space Cover

1939 National Geographic Space Article

Navigating with the stars and a sextant

Big old telescope

Homemade telescopes for amature astronomers

An early Robert H. Goddard rocket

How they figured Pluto was a planet

Early picture of Mars ice caps

Early picture of sunspots

Early planetarium projector

Meteor Crater in Arizona near

Early photo of gaseous solar flare

1930’s painting of earth from the moon

Painting of Saturn from asteroid

The caption was too far in the binding for me to get a good scan of it, but it read, “Saturn, with its strange revolving rings, as seen from an asteroid 500,000 miles away.”

Roaring asteroid

I think this one’s my favorite:

Mars with its mysterious green vegetation

The sun breaks up creating planets

Total eclipse of the sun–by the earth

Sunlight through a prism

A comet behind the Washington Monument

About the artist:

About Charles Bittinger, the Artist for National Geographic

Young boy with Meteor

Astronomer with early telescope

Moon face a nuisance to astronomers

This meteor crashed through a garage roof and into a car

Chris Wondra

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114 responses to Old National Geographic Magazines: Trash or Time Capsule?

  1. THAT is totally cool. We stand to inherit literally decades worth of National Geographics when my in-laws pass, but I don’t know if they have the entire run from the very first issue….

    Thanks Mrs Chili,

    I was hoping someone else would appreciate that. The whole thing is kind of a double edged sword. It’s just so much junk, but every now and then I’ll find something cool. Like that issue with that famous picture of the the young Afghanistan girl with her piercing eyes–I found that issue.

    And it’s always fun to look at those old advertisements.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

    Chris

    Chris

  2. Very interesting! Vegetation on Mars? Absurd! Though, it was 1939. Very interesting! My Grandparents sent me an issue of something back in the 1960′s and that sort of stuff is interesting to read I think. Great blog!

  3. Thanks for the neat look. I’ve never seen an issue quite that old before. My fiancee and I both grew up in households where NG arrived monthly, was thoroughly read by everyone in the house, and eventually each issue (after residing in the magazine rack for far too long) was dutifully packed away into Bankers’ boxes by our mothers, rarely or never to be enjoyed again. Both matriarchs still have their ever-growing dusty collections of magazines that everyone has read yet nobody dares throw away.

    I decided to challenge the NG paradigm once and for all this September when my son was assigned a Grade 7 collage project. He couldn’t believe it when I told him to start cutting up my NGs and initially flat-out refused (Gramma taught him well!) I surprised myself when I immediately and definitively told him I would much rather see them used for a school project than hanging around in dusty boxes years from now. He received an excellent grade on his collage, his friends were able to utilize many of the quality images as well, and now his teacher will gladly accept donations of my older issues – A finer recyclying program I cannot imagine!

    I’m a huge supporter of the idea that life is far better the less one forms attachments to ‘things’ , but the family has collectively agreed not to tell “the Grammas” about putting the shears to a NG, just in case.

    Hi Darren,

    I know what you mean. It takes a bit of an adjustment to start cutting up artifacts from the grandparents. But just think if we had to save everything. My house has enough clutter.

    Welcome. It’s always nice to meet someone with common interests. Great to see you around.

    Chris

  4. Does this National Geographic have an ad for
    “The Little Leather Library Corp.” on the back of it? If it does I would love a copy of that ad..
    Thanks for all your time.
    Sally

    Hi Sally,

    Nope. Sorry.

    The back ad on this issue is for “Grace Line Caribbean-South American Cruises”

    But I’ll keep an eye out for you and drop you an email if I find one for “The Little Leather Library Corp.” I love looking at the old ads. I was actually thinking of posting some of the more interesting ones.

    May I ask why you are looking for that ad? What did/does “The Little Leather Library Corp do?”

    Chris

  5. Chris,

    If Sally comes back to check or if you somehow log an email address when she posts, she’s looking for one of the following NG issues:

    1922 – January, April, June, October
    1923 – January, April, October
    1924 – January, March, October

    I’m assuming Sally is looking for an original, but scans of every NG ad can be found at http://home.earthlink.net/~littlelibrary/history.html

    Hope this helps!

    Hi Darren,

    I was actually just looking a bit last night. I think the earliest issues I have are from 1934.
    Thanks for the link! That is pretty cool.

    Chris

    • Chris,

      I just received a phonecall from my mother asking if I or any of the teachers I work with could use the NG magazines she has stored since 1970.

      I am not a “keeper of things.” However, a few key issues of a magazine that brings very nostalgic feelings of my childhood wouldn’t be out of the question. The question is, which issues would I choose and how would I get my hands on them?

      My thoughts are:
      January 1937 the year mom was born
      September 1937 the year Dad was born
      August 1963 my brother
      July 1965 my brother
      September 1969 my birthyear
      December 1969 Apollo landing

      Those would have to come from an outside source. I can choose any from 1970 on if you have some suggestions.

      Thanks!

      Mindy

  6. I am looking for National Geor. Magazine slip
    covers for my collection Thanks
    Darrell Mott

  7. I have 1960′s to 1990′s I know they contain so much cultural info, but they take up a lot of room

  8. Hi All
    Having recently moved into our new home, we uncovered many “treasures” in the loft! Stamps, old clocks and about 30 years of NGs. We often pondered on the value of them, the clocks and stamps having already been taken to the tip after valuation! Well I guess I’ve got my answer! It seems such a shame but thanks to your website and comments of others I can now do the necessary with a clear conscience – and not expect to retire early on the fruits of our find!

  9. Jan Claes, Hasselt, Belgium August 18, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Hi Chris, I love old magazines and in 2000 I actually BOUGHT at a garage sale one (1) old (1943) issue of NG and now, reading a book about the war, once again this issue proves to be an interesting and relevant addition and gives me hours of nice reading!
    Would’nt separate from it even if I got ten times what I paid it. ( 5 dollar or so, I guess)
    If I had a garage full of these, I’d spent some time with them now and then.
    So…save them for posterity.
    Greetz,
    Jan

  10. I own the cd collection of the magazine from the first issue up till 1997, I hope that one day NG re-releases the set. Now with computers running faster the program no longer works *curse vista* I do love spending a rainy day browsing a cd or two since without the program there is no search engine for articles.

  11. I have hundred of NG magz from 1931 to 1945 and the ads alone are fun to look at. New Buick for 1500.00 and New England telegrapg Co. ads> I thought perhaps they would be worth something, but i guess you answered my Question.

    I know what you mean about the ads. Someday if I get around to it, I’d like to scan in and post some of the ads as well. Good stuff.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Chris

  12. Hi fellow nutters
    I’m so glad I came accross your site, I thought I was the only nut obsessed with the old ng’s .
    It’s a pity they have no real monitory value – but who knows our efforts may be rewarded in decades to come. by the way what is the oldest Ng sited? I have a 1929 Sept. edition
    - Chris, Thanks for the chance to exchange info. I feel rassured that all is now right with the world, and it looks like im in good company.

    Hi Suzy,

    You’re right. You can relax. All is right with the world. And the company is much improved now that you’re here.

    Chris

  13. Nice article. For what it is worth, I AM scanning old ads from National Geographics (and other publications as well). I recently found a bunch a (1930w-1950s) at used book store. Graphic designers like myself find inspiration in these and they are becoming increasing popular. I wish I could come across boxes of these! My website is Retroadsandgraphics.com. Thanks,

  14. HI. My neighbors are looking for an issue on Anarctica in the 1940s or 50s in which their uncle, a Navy photographer, has photos. His name was REctor. Any such thing in your collection? Thanks.

  15. I am torned apart! I am getting marry to a neat, “throw everything that you don’t use” man (other than that he is wonderful) I would love to be able to donate my precious collection to a place were they will appreciate it, but nobody seems to be interseted. How frustrated!

  16. My girlfriend bought a house several years ago and found quite a collection of NG’s in the basement. The oldest one dates to February, 1911. Yes that is 1911. It was signed in 2 places by a John B. Hunt (have no idea who he is)

  17. There’s a place in Canberra(Australia) that has a complete collection dating back to 1906!I stayed there overnight once-it was great!

  18. Need a picture of the old globe logo of the society…..help

  19. i have a bunch a just got dating back to 1911-1916 or soo

  20. Looking for the Dec 1924 issue, which has pics on Puerto Rico (Porto Rico at the time)

  21. There is a bustling trade of National Geographics on eBay and other auction sites. I myself have 1905 to today, in slipcases, lined up on bookcases in my home office. My kids love to sit down there and pick one out of the blue and read them and I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

    Someone here asked what the oldest one is – October 1888 – and I have an authourized reprint of it.

    If anyone finds some 1905 or older, please drop me an email and I will gladly take it.

    • I have a fairly large collection of National Geographics in storage I’m interested in selling. I think their dates are around 1910-1920′s. I have researched some on prices but if you make me an offer I would love to finally sell them. You can either e-mail me at angelgould91@yahoo.com or call me @ 706-969-8037 / 706-892-4355

  22. It didn’t post my email addy: unicornservices@shaw.ca

  23. Margaret – I have a December 1924 for sale
    Visit my website: http://www.members.shaw.ca/unicornservices/back_issues.htm Though I haven’t updated it for a while (bad me) my inventory list says it is in Good condition and sells for $10.75US. I will sell for $6

  24. Debbie
    I have many old original issues of National Geographics and reprints that date from 1888 to 1907 and originals that are from 1907 to the early 50′s. They are duplicates. Maybe we can agree on a price?

  25. I have NG from around 1905 up to around 1923 I never counted then but it must be arould 100 more or less. Allmost all are in excellent or like new condition

  26. This is awesome. Anyone interested in old NG mags and even new ones should consider it. It definitely takes up less room than a full collection:
    http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/ngs/browse/productDetail.jsp?productId=1076013

  27. I have a lot of older N.G. 1950 to 1980. looking to swap for any N.G. befor 1920.

  28. Hi Chris, I have the very same dilemma. My Dad passed away and I have a whole wall full of NG going back to the 40′s and some individual ones dating back to the 20′s. It would break my heart to toss them, but finding a good home for them even as a donation is very difficult.

  29. Great post! I was just browsing around to find how
    much would a NG collection be worth. My grandfather
    left me his collection from 1934 till 2004, when he
    passed away. Neither my grandma nor I pursued
    his subscription.

    For me they are priceless given the emotional value.
    But I’m amazed that some people here have NG issues
    dating back to the real early 1900′s! Impressive!

  30. If you have pre 1920s editions you are INSANE to sell them for cheap or give them away

  31. Do you have the (4/13/1916??) issue about Hiram Bingham discovering Macchu Picchu? I would be very interested in purchasing this issue.

    • Hey I might have the issue that you want, I have many older issues of National Geographic I dont know if you still interested

  32. hi Chris,i am not a lucky guy like many of you that hinerited a National Geographic Magazine collection, but i ben working on collecting as many magazines as i can get my hands on,my main source is my local librarywhere i get issues from the late 60′s to the last months issue at cheap prices…(.10 to .25 cents each,even some with the original maps suplements…ii will get my DVDroom collection by my bithday,but is not the same as openning an old issue that has been on a dusty attic or garage for years……i also read and like to see the older magazines ,the oldest one i seen is from 1914 at the local library. I will like to invite any one that cant take care of those old magazines you recived from your grandpas or fathers, to donate them to your local library,they can sell them to people like me and we can get to take care of them and enjoy them again…..thank you again

  33. I have several NG Mags…..early as Feb 1920
    What are they worth?

  34. Hey i have every national geographic magazine from January 1961 – January 2010 all in very good condition including the December 1969 issue about the first man on the moon how much do you think the whole lot of them is worth?

  35. Hey-I have 3 boxes of National Geographic magazines. They are from 1924-1950 and about 1965-1997. They were passed down through the family. Make me an offer for a issue or all of them. Detroit area. Email me at buy_bnbn@yahoo.com. Thanks

  36. Chris, can you tell me if the July 1939 issue has the picture of the schooner “When and If”? I know it appeared in a 1939 issue, but I don’t know which month. I thought maybe it was in the article entitled “At Home on the Worlds Oceans.” It might also be in the December issue since it was taken in the West Indies.
    Thanks,
    Laura

  37. Hello I have 16 issues of old National Geographic Magazines, which I would like to sell, because I stopped collecting them. (It became to expensive for me). The magazines are in very good condition.

    Magazines:1897 (one issue)
    1900 (two issues)
    1901 (for issues)
    1902 (two issues)
    1904 (one issue)
    1905 (five issues)
    1906 (one issue)

    If you have any questions or want to buy them, please contact me.

  38. here is my email andres.ri94@gmail.com
    (excuse me moderator for posting twice)

  39. very cool stuff.

  40. I have many issues dating from 1915 to present. I would be interested in selling the entire collection. All bindings are intact and in good condition.

  41. I have a large collection of issues & maps from 1930 to 2000. I am just now categorizing them.
    What I can tell so far is, I have all the maps to those dates – they have never been opened and are in excellent shape. The maps are to be sold as a group. If interested – email me.

  42. patricia smtih April 29, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    my dad found a dec 1929 edition and i was wondering if it was worth anything?

  43. We have boxes of old NG’s , with some going back to the 1950′s. If anyone is interested in them, I believe you can have them for the cost of shipping them to you.
    Let me know. Seems like a shame to throw them out.

  44. I have about 10 boxes of National Geographics from the late 19th century through to the shameful Afghan girl issue of the mid 1980s. I’m glad to have the early ones, especially for the adverts, but they really are appalling after that…

  45. Hi Chris, I have all the issues of National Geographic Magazine. Some of the 1890s are reprints from 1930′s. As I live in Europe, it has taken my about 3 years to collect all the pre 1960s issues, but has suceeded. Since NG has issued the collection on DVD and HDD (again) I have obtained the electronic collection as well, but I’m using that mostly for browsing and as soon as I know which issue to look for I’m back at the shelves to take out the physical copy.

  46. CARMEN PANAGA July 7, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    My husband has 2 complete set of NG 1940′S TO PRESENT. What is the best way to sell it

  47. I have a fairly complete collection of National Geographic Magazines in my library. I will be moving in a month or two, and am interested in liquidating these magazines, rather than paying to have them moved.

    My collection goes back to Oct 1930, up through 2006. In this range I am only missing a few: Jun ’76 and most of 1996. I have two of Dec ’69 (moon landing) and have two of the Dec 1988 hologram issues. The three ‘sound’ issues still have the records inside them, not torn out.

    I also have three hardcover indexes: 1888-1946, 1888-1988, and 1947-1983.

  48. i have a bunch of onld national geograph magiznes in my base ment and well if anybody wants or knows where i can sell them please emale me right away im not sure wich ones i have but there are alot of old ones please and thank you,
    jenifer

  49. We don’t have issues that are quite that old.. but I have issues from 1985 onward. A few years ago I had to eliminate the 1970′s issues and took them to our library but they are no longer interested in loose magazines. I’d like to reduce things down to 1995 to the present. If anyone would like the 1985 to 95 issues, they’re yours for free. Just email me at susmeg@verizon.net

    • I came upon a box of ng’s dated 1973-1983 or so. Would be very interested in knowing their value as a group or knowing if there’s any that are more valueable than others? Please email with any info you may have.

      lu_3869_romecity@yahoo.com

      Thank you,
      LuAnn

  50. I have ng magazines from the late 40s to early 90s how much are they worth? If your interested in buying let me know…

    Eguerra7@att.net

  51. I am looking for July 1931.

  52. i have ng magazines from 27 to 70.i want to sell if anybody is interested in them.

  53. (sigh) I was just sitting here individually bagging each and every one of my early (1923-1969) NGs… I don’t care what you say… they are too beautiful! … especially if you attract the individual interest of the buyer (see Mr. Macchu Picchu [Feb 2]). I WILL protect these early treasures and continue to seek them out… especially when so many of you schlebs seem to be throwing them out… ha-ha
    JsA

    • You are right, they are beautiful magazines, however, I have had my grandpas’ nantional geo’s for about 10 years now and I think I looked through every one of them. Are you still interested in buying more? If so you can call me 608-577-3438 or via email me at angelsbyme62@yahoo.com. Can you at least let me know what they may be worth. I would greatly appreciate it. I have most from 1920 and up…thanks for your time.

  54. Have October 1888 to Present complete collection,all maps, all indexes, looking to sell all as a group. All magazines and early hard covers are in PERFECT condition, most magazines from 1940′s and up are still in their original brown paper slip cover still on, unread and untouched serious inquiries only please.
    thanks, T.L. Short
    Calgary, Alberta, Canada

  55. I have Ng from 1979 to 1991 and most of them are in their covers. Would any one be interest in buying them, they are in great shape. Will sell very cheap.

  56. I have hundreds of old national geographic I’d like 2 get ride of.all from 1918 to 1980.please email me.

  57. Looking for a copy of National Geographic – July 1938, Vol. 74, No. 1

  58. I, too, have inherited about a hundred old National Geographics. I”m wondering, what did you end up doing with the old issues? I’d like to hang on to a few of the oldest for my daughter to see when she’s old enough, but I’m not sure how to convince my Husband that it’s worth the space.

  59. The Wheaton Library in Silver Spring, MD sells National Geographics for 25 cents each back to 1950. Before 1950 they are 50 cents each, but they only have a few and they are in poor condition. My collection goes back to 1909. And I just finished 1910 – 1913. Each issue went for $20 each.

  60. Here’s the National Geographic Collectors Corner http://ngscollectors.ning.com/

    The Wheaton Library I mentioned early takes NG donations, but clears them out every few months because they don’t have the shelf space to store them all. They don’t get much from the 60′s on back, however.

  61. rosy grandeampudis October 15, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Hello Chris,

    I was wondering if you coluld help me to find some national geographic magazines from 2000 to 2010.. Do you know where can I find them? Thank you very Much

  62. to the last person on this comment chain: I have the magazines you want – how can I get them to you? Please let me know ASAP> All are in good condition.

  63. Hi, those images are amazing, you’re so lucky!!! I’m trying to find more old National Geographic magazines for an illustration project I’m doing at the moment, I’m studying graphic design. Thank you for sharing your treasure!! :)

  64. Wish to purchase N.G. Jan. 1902 original issue with maps

  65. I have NG Magagines back from 1941 to 1970′s. Making a list of actual dates. Baltimore, Maryland area. Anyone interested?

  66. Same here. NGs like new back to the 1970s. Hate to trash them but if nobody needs them, they’re gone.

  67. I personally enjoy looking at older issues mostly for the ads in them- it’s fun to see how things change in products over time (of course the main stories and articles in them also interest me). My family used to have a large collection of NG issues from the 90′s and back to the 60′s, but because of the pure fact we didn’t want to lug them around every time we moved and we didn’t have the space for them, they were either trashed or given away. It’s too bad that people do this, depending on the condition some NGs can sell for a lot, even then I would probably keep them because I enjoy looking at them so much.

  68. It seems like everyone is selling these mags, but is anyone buying/? I also would like to know what they are worth and so far i havent seen anyone reply to that question. I have issues: oct. 1964 nov 1971 july 1972 double map may aug nov 1972 jan march april june nov 1973. they are all decent. Can anyone please tell me if they are worth keeping or if i should even bother looking out for others. My email is Tinasemail37@yahoo.com. Again Im saying PLEASE if anyone has any info for me at all email me asap, i need to do something with them. I also do house clean outs so i come accross lots of old stuff. I have old news papers, books, other mags, lots of misc things u can also email me for more info on that stuff. Thanks, Tina

  69. i have 1917-18-19-20-21-22-27-28-29-30 issues is there ay value here

  70. I would like to purchase a 1923-1924 National Geographic that had photos of Carlsbad Caverns by Ray V. Davis.

  71. Hi there,
    I don’t know much about National Geographic Magazines,
    But my grandfather has passed away and has left a large collection of magazines from 1970. do they have any values? any suggestion what to do with them?

    Please email me any details

    thanks
    Mona

  72. My daughter works at a school in Nashville, TN that has many very old National Geographic magazines. Do you know of a local organization who would be interested in getting them?

  73. I have an October and December of 1978 and a February 1979 National Geographic, If you are interested please contact me.

  74. i Lhave a 1927 july-dec L11 n g book in fairly good shape interested mail me at catvme2@aol.com

  75. Hello, I’m an Aussie, and have just found your website by accident.

    Just wondered (bearing in mind how far I am from most of your collectors in North America) if National Geographics from 1936-39 (include articles about Europe just before WW broke out) are likely to be worth anything. Unfortunately, while still in fair condition, they do look like the beginnings of mould is starting to form on some of magazines,

    Regards Mick
    Queensland

  76. i have national geo. books from 1938-1950′s interested email me danboy5357@aol.com

  77. I have the following National Geographic Magazines: June 1916; September 1916; August 1939 and September 1939. Let me know if you are interested. Looking to sell contact kempel@juno.com

  78. I have an completed collection of National Geographic Magazines. From 1888 to 2012. All originals. E-mail me at knox.dillon@yahoo.com for more information.

  79. interested in selling National Geographic magazines from the 1970s. Also have old Smithsonian magazines as well from the 1970s. You can email me if interested: mcmanes@gmail.com

  80. Just found this issue in a basement, what is it worth?

  81. I have the entire collection for sale. From the very first one until the most recent one just mailed. Any interest?

  82. Five years later: Nat Geo and the History channel just ran programs using the same information in this issue. Still doesnt mean they are worth any money though.
    Some of the advertisements in them are selling at flea makets for a few dollars. Classic car collecters like to have origional ads for anything automotive related.

  83. Traniece Broussard July 8, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I have some old National Geographic from 1923 and 1960-2000 i was wondering, How much was is worth? Where is the best place to give it to?

  84. We have 1920-1980

    Getting rid of most of them in yard sale tomorrow I hope. I was thinking they were cool and wanted to keep them all, but they are taking up to much space. I love looking at the old ads. If there is one you are looking for let me know before tomorrow.

  85. Please contact me at davidigstevens@hotmail.com if you have a copy of the April 1913 issue for sale. Thank you.

  86. katie blessings October 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Hello everyone
    II have a collection of over hundered
    going back to the 30 s mainly 30 s 40 s
    if anyone wishes to buy email me
    de-light11@hotmail.co.uk
    I was told in London its the ads that can be copied and sold as copyright 70 years is this true ?
    in camden market they sell for £6 per ad
    they are beautiful would prefer to sell whole copies
    as need space have had them a long time
    o

  87. for those interested in national geographic magazine june 1924 , july 1924(2) , april 1925 , march 1928 , april 1951 ,may 1965 , may 1979..emrekeserel@hotmail.com

  88. After 1970 could be in 1980;s an article with color photos of old Japanese or C calligraphy artists tools, jade water vessel and bamboo brushes etc,,,anyone seen this issue? Judithhinese

    • I have march 1911 in nearly mint condition, which I got for ten dollars at the local used bookshop. The advert on the back is one for Vose Pianos, and an advert for silk Turkish Towels. It has an article that mentions Zeppelin and that the Isthmus of Panama will be a site of the future!!!

  89. I have some NG magazines dating back to the ´30s and was wondering if they are worth something, would you please help me?

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    [...] were so many pictures in my post about space from a 1939 National Geographic Magazine, I thought it might be fun to make a slideshow of them all. So here you [...]

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