How to Collect Vintage and Antique Calendars

hanging wall calendar
 Eric Dreyer/Getty Images

Taking calendars for granted is an easy thing to do. After all, most people don't give them a second thought until they need one and it's not readily available. So what actually makes a functional item like a calendar collectible?

The first factor is the illustration. When looking at these utilitarian objects as works of art, something merely used to keep track of 365 days in a year suddenly takes on a different meaning. And some of the most highly sought after and valuable calendars offer some sort of advertising slogan.

Advertising Calendars

An authentic calendar hawking a product such as Coca-Cola could sell for thousands if it was found in original condition with an early 1900s date. Those made as late as the 1960s generally sell in the $50 to $300 range, depending on the illustration, according to Kovels' Antiques Price Guide.

A host of other advertising calendars exist as well. The more popular and timeless the product depicted, the more likely the corresponding calendars will be highly valued. A calendar from the early 1900s featuring Bristol Steel Fishing Rods or Winchester rifles can be worth a bundle if the right buyer and seller meet and find each other at an opportune time.

No matter what they advertised, most of these popular calendars were given away as freebies well into the 1960s. Many of these giveaways were much more generic. They could be ordered with text advertising a business stamped on a standard stock image. Some of these are actually worth a good bit, including those showing a young Marilyn Monroe posing nude. And don't forget that notable artists like Maxfield Parrish supplied illustrations for calendars in the 1930s that can be quite valuable to collectors today.

Keep in mind that the most valuable calendars, like several of those high-dollar Coke advertisements, have been reproduced. It's hard to get a larger paper collectible just right without any telltale signs to distinguish authenticity, but it is wise to be wary if you find one for a too-good-to-be-true price.

Is an Older Calendar Worth More Money?

In general, older calendars do command higher prices because they didn't survive in great numbers. Like other ephemera originally made to discard after use, calendars often went in the trash heap when New Year's Day rolled around.

Of course, there are some exceptions. Many older calendars found in abundance dating to the '20s, '30s and beyond depict some very lovely ladies. Perhaps you've seen, or recall, the calendar girls dreamed up by George Petty, Gil Elvgren, and Alberto Vargas throughout the 1940s and '50s. These were so pretty that people tuck them in a drawer and saved them over time.

There are probably just as many calendars for sale in antique malls around the country with adorable illustrations of children embellishing the paper. Sometimes these were simply the children next door; other times they included the faces of the famous. Calendars depicting the Dionne Quintuplets as they grew up during the 1930s fall into this category.

Perhaps folks of yesteryear connected with the individuals posing for these drawings and just couldn't throw them away. And there's also the celebrity factor. Sometimes people are so enamored by the aura of an individual, they can't just toss away their likeness.

Many older calendars featured one picture with a pad of month pages to be torn out one by one, whereas modern paper calendars usually have multiple pages with a different picture for each month. This transition seemed to begin during the '40s and '50s. When you do find a pad type calendar, a full pad will be worth more than one with just a few pages left.

Modern Calendars

If it hangs around long enough, most any calendar will become collectible regardless of the illustration since some people buy them because of a date association. A calendar from a birth year, graduation year, or commemorating an anniversary can make an excellent keepsake for young and old alike. However, a collector generally won't pay more than $20 to $50 for a generic calendar from the 1960s on back. More common examples can easily sell for much less.

So, what about modern calendars many of us grew up with and those we buy as holiday gifts today? Do they hold much value? Truthfully, not just yet.

Unless they contain popular advertising campaigns or celebrities with universal appeal and were produced in limited quantities, most calendars made since the 1960s need to age a few more years to garner an audience with collectors. For instance, a calendar from the '60s with the likeness of the Beatles or Elvis would hold some value at present. One featuring puppies or kittens in the same age bracket might not be in high demand.

And although most of them won't, some calendars produced just a few years ago might be worth saving. Pop culture phenoms like Harry Potter, the latest pop star icons, and other pieces of childhood folks will want to "buy back" as they age might make good things to save. You're gambling on most everyone else throwing them away, but what could it hurt if you have room for them after they're no longer useful?

After all, collectors would fork over plenty of green to own an original Marilyn Monroe calendar. One featuring Roy Rogers and Tigger could be worth quite a bit to a Baby Boomer, too.

Predicting collecting trends can be a funny business though. Could the next big craze be those funky kitchen calendars printed on burlap from the late '60s and early '70s? Don't bet the farm on it, but you just never know.