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Part 1 - By Robert Reed

Here is a classic tale:      

Recently sorting through the belongings of their late uncle, two women uncovered a large folder of vintage paper advertising. Near the bottom of the dusty stack were three Coca-Cola calendars in excellent condition.

The two contacted an expert, and it turns out the colorful 1940’s calendars were valued at hundreds of dollars each!

All things Coca-Cola are attracting a growing number of collectors, and with nearly a century of production behind them, Coca-Cola calendars are among the favored of the Coke items.

“Calendars are certainly the most beautiful of all Coca-Cola collectibles,” declares noted Coke historian, author and collector Allen Petretti. “Because of the beautiful artwork and colors, and the rarity of many, (Coca-Cola) calendars have become the most important pieces in my collection.”

Prior to the 1880’s, wall calendars for the masses were unheard of. They became popular household items when advertising became the driving force behind their production and distribution.

By the beginning of the 1890’s calendars were seen as a natural premium for advertisers. They were relatively inexpensive when mass-produced. Major companies could have them printed with the latest lithographic techniques and then distributed to local merchants.

Sometimes the local retailer or distributor added his own personal stamp to the calendar. Like almanacs, any information the calendars provided was bound to remain on display in homes or businesses for the entire year.

Historical accounts say the first Coca-Cola calendar was produced in 1891. A modest six and a half inches by nine inches, it was printed by the Clavert Lithography Company of Atlanta, Georgia. Like so many that would follow, the calendar for Asa Chandler and Company featured an attractive, wholesome young woman. The lady wore a period dress and held a tennis racquet.

Over the years, the featured Coca-Cola woman would be holding other objects including an umbrella, skis, ice skates, pen, fan and of course either a bottle or glass of her favorite cola drink.

Throughout the 1890’s and into the 1900’s Coca-Cola continued to issue distinguished calendars highlighted with attractive but usually anonymous women.

The son of company founder Asa Chandler would write many years later that early in the 20 th century working with the Wolf and Company advertising agency of Philadelphia on new calendars was a major thing.

“It was always one of the high spots of the year when David Wolf would drive up with several large portfolios containing proofs of the calendars and hangers for next season,” he noted.

Starting in 1904 the Coca-Cola Company and its accompanying bottlers began issuing slightly different calendars for the same year. For fountain sales locations the lovely lady would be holding a glass—one which usually, but not always, had Coca-Cola inscribed on it. For bottlers the same woman would be holding a bottle instead of a glass. For the most part models were “arranged” so that the original image needed only slight alterations. But in some cases the reworking was much more extensive.

In the opinion of some advanced Coke collectors, bottle-holding beauties became more prevalent because of the growing dominance of product distribution by bottlers.

Coca-Cola also sometimes turned from mere pretty faces to stars of entertainment early in the 20 th century. Metropolitan Opera star Lillian Norica was featured on calendars starting in 1904. Another early “show biz” favorite was legendary actress Hilda Clark.

Coca-Cola calendars were both appealing and striking in design. Increasingly they were given a warm welcome on the walls of potential patrons. Their eye-catching graphics hung in full view for a full 12 months, before time ultimately became their worst enemy. As soon as the New Year rolled around, past calendars were immediately replaced and shamelessly discarded.

The art on the calendars was so strong and compelling that it was typically used on other Coca-Cola advertising that same year or soon afterwards.

Recommended reading:
Classic Coca-Cola Calendars by Allen Petretti, Kraus Publications.

Coca-Cola Part 2

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