Yes, I’d like a chicken calendar and some history on the side
We’re a long way off from when most people buy calendars, going by the time this will be published, so this may seem an odd topic.
I tried writing timely posts and it only works part of the time. I also either hate putting aside other ideas to make room for the advance topics or I lose all interest before I get to them.
This week, I found someone in a special interest Facebook group who has the same calendar as I do! It’s a traditional month by month wall calendar, decorated with a featured photo of a different chicken breed each month.
The ridiculousness (in having a different chicken breed for each month of the year just to look at on my wall) hit me, and I wondered how calendars became a way to show off our personal interests. Y’know, as opposed to just keeping track of the days of the year and when your parents’ birthdays are.
Since I was out to satisfy my curiosity, not write a thesis on calendars and analogue schedule keeping, I only went back as far as the almanac.
For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, an almanac is “an annual calendar containing important dates and statistical information such as astronomical data and tide tables”. The Farmer’s Almanac was the most popular, and has been in production since it was founded in 1792. For a bit of trivia for people into those games, it is the oldest continuously published periodical.
Almanacs are published, like calendars, marketed to specific audiences of targeted interests. The Farmer’s Almanac is, as it says, focused on things pertinent to farming and agriculture. So the calendar includes moon phases, season changes, average temperatures for that time of year, planting times for different regions, astronomy guides, predicted hours of daylight and rainfall, etc.
I highly recommend poking around their site and maybe even buying this year’s edition: http://www.almanac.com/
On my search for where the first kitschy calendar came from, I stumbled on something else. Molly McCarthy writes this about early almanacs, “Colonial publishers assumed that time and money were among the chief concerns of their broad audience and they responded with a product that answered those needs.”
Molly McCarthy wrote a book. I don’t know anyone I’d recommend it to, and it’s got a niche audience, but as a fan of books and nonfiction in general as well as dust-filled corners of history, I am endlessly glad her 2013 work, The Accidental Diarist: A History of the Daily Planner in America, exists. Thanks, University of Chicago Press!
So, from almanacs, calendars then took a few different forms. I’m looking mainly at American history, so it’s no real surprise the earliest wall calendars I found online are for liquor companies.
I was poking around on Kovels.com, an antique site that had the oldest antique calendars I could find, and this is their preface to the items:
“Calendars made to hang on the wall or to be displayed on a desk top have been popular since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Many were printed with advertising as part of the artwork and were given away as premiums. Calendars with guns, gunpowder, or Coca-Cola advertising are expensive. The wall calendar with a large picture and a small pad with tear-off months is wanted with the complete January-to-December pad.”
The oldest calendar they had listed with a picture was 1896 for “The Garden City Bottling & Liquor Co.” featuring some girls holding kittens in their skirts… obviously just a ploy for showing off those scandalously clean white petticoats. Most of the ones I saw from early years seem to be from insurance and liquor companies, though pinups were probably around first.
There’s an older one on eBay with a lovely hunting scene – I’m guessing it’s French, and I can’t read French, but from what I can guess it’s a company calendar since the back material lists contacts and names, as well as some legal-looking material.
At some point, a free calendar wasn’t enough to entice customers to buy more of whatever was on sale. Really a person generally needs just one a year, two if they have the freedom to post their own at the office. These days, there aren’t many people who don’t have a digital calendar with a ton of shortcuts to schedule things, set reminders, track things you don’t want to have to worry about, and on top of that, they remember your mom’s birthday every year without you having to write it down.
There are reasons to buy a wall calendar, though.
It’s rotating artwork, for one thing. I know I like to see a show-quality blue-laced red wyandotte hen for 4 weeks of the year the same way my brother is happy just being around a picture of a P-38 Lightning, especially when he knows another historic war plane is going to be up on his wall next month.
Another reason you might want to invest in a calendar is where your money goes. Charity fundraisers have frequently used attractive wall calendars to get people to shell out for a good cause. Some of the most common have been closer to the early pin-up ones (only with a LOT more skin), but others are very clever.
My latest favorite, as of writing today, benefits research for treating prostate cancer and features “hairy men dressed like fairies”.
I’m dead serious, it’s a hilariously beautiful thing: Hairyography Calendar
(Out of respect for the artist, I will not be including the pictures here, but visit the links to give her site due traffic.)
Started as an April Fools prank by photographer Heather Larkin (find her at her website, Fairyography and her hairy man photos at Hairyography), her photo series spawned a very real calendar you can purchase, with part of the proceeds going to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
As long as you’re going out to get a calendar every year, might as well make that purchase count toward something you believe in, and that will stay amusing!