The beginning of a new year seems like the perfect time to explore our collection of vintage calendars.
It’s hard to imagine in this age of email marketing and television commercials, but calendars were once among the most effective means of advertising. Unlike advertisements in newspapers or magazines, which were likely to be discarded right away, a free calendar could potentially hang in a home or business for an entire year.
The more attractive the calendar, the more likely consumers would be to display it on their walls, which gave companies a powerful incentive to create colorful calendars featuring beautiful illustrations. Among the many fine examples in our collection, my favorite is this 1909 “Birdland” calendar.
Apparently the brainchild of George J. Charlton, passenger agent for a group of railroad companies, the calendar promotes the conglomerate’s Clover Leaf Route (connecting Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City). It features illustrations of women wearing bird plumage, cleverly designed to evoke the names of four passenger trains: “The Hummer,” “The Nightingale,” “The Red Flyer” and “The Nighthawk.”
A cross between Audubon specimen and pin-up girl, these images would appeal to a broad range of consumers, having something for almost everyone — art, fashion, nature, theater, and sex appeal (it’s not clear if the term “bird” was in common use in America as a slang term for young women at the time, but it’s hard not to make the connection).
The back of the four sheets are also illustrated, with allegorical prints depicting “Luxury,” “Speed,” and “Agriculture,” culminating in “Perfect Passenger Service.” Although the images are hardly subtle, explanatory text is provided to make sure their message is clear, i.e.: “Speed, represented by the central figure, rests, after attempting to keep up the continuous fast pace of the modern locomotive.”
A particularly charming example of chromolithography (the technique that made inexpensive color printing widely available), this calendar is one of many held by N-YHS; collectively, they form an invaluable and largely untapped resource on the history of advertising.