The earliest known Coca-Cola advertising calendar was issued for 1891. Using the latest printing technology, the company published a beautiful full-color lithographed calendar with an image of a pretty young woman drinking Coke. After that, it’s believed that Coca-Cola distributed at least one calendar a year, even though calendars from 1905 and 1906 have never been found.
Calendars turned out to be one of the company’s most effective advertising tools. Before radio and TV, companies relied on print to get their messages out. While a newspaper or magazine might be looked at once or twice and discarded, a calendar given to a customer for free would be posted inside their home for a year, reminding them every day that Coke is “Delicious and Refreshing.”
Starting in 1904, the Coca-Cola Company and its parent bottlers began publishing two different calendars, one featuring Coke in a glass for fountain sales, and the other featuring a Coke bottle for bottle sales. Most of the time, the same artwork was used, the bottle swapped for the glass and vice versa. These images could also be used for other advertising items like trays, posters, signs, or magazine ads.
Some small bottlers even issued their own unsanctioned calendars. These often featured racier images than the official calendars. While the Coca-Cola Company’s calendars relied on pretty girls up until the 1940s, the image was always wholesome and tastefully posed, and never risque like a men’s magazine pin-up. That’s why the unsanctioned calendars are sought-after by collectors and command high prices.
Since more calendars were produced for the bottlers, the official glass version tends to be more rare than the official bottle version. The years that definitely have two calendars are 1904, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1919, 1920, 1923, 1927, and 1928. In all other years between 1918 and 1930, the official calendars feature both a glass and a bottle. This practice started due to sugar shortages that slowed Coke sales during World War I. In 1931 and every year after, calendars only showed bottles.
Early calendars promoted the “health” benefits of Coke. For example, the 1897 calendar, called “Victorian Girl,” reads, “Delicious and Refreshing. Relieves Mental and Physical Exhaustion. Cures headaches.” A 1904 calendar is unusual because it features a little girl, breaking an unspoken rule of the era that discouraged using children in advertisements. The 1908 calendar contained the slogan “Good to the Last Drop,” which was later trademarked by Maxwell House Coffee.
At first, the pretty ladies seen on the Coca-Cola calendars were anonymous models. But for the 1901 calendar, esteemed singer and actor Hilda Clark posed for a painting. Lillian ...
Illustrator Hamilton King painted the famous Coca-Cola Girl, which the company copyrighted in 1909. The image portrays an arresting Edwardian woman with a splash of bright color, the red rose in her hat, which matches the Coca-Cola logo. King painted several images of this woman for the company, many of which were used for the calendars. Since these calendars, like the 1911 one, include the artist’s signature, they are worth more.
Starting in the 1920s, the calendars were often drawn by well-known illustrators of the era. Norman Rockwell drew three calendars for Coca-Cola. Calendars were also drawn by N.C. Wyeth, father of artist Andrew Wyeth; Fred Meissen; Bradshaw Crandall; and popular pin-up artist Gil Elvgren. Haddon Sundblom, who created the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, also made calendars.
Before 1940, the calendars were either printed as a single sheet with the calendar on it, or attached to a monthly calendar pad—at the first of the month, you’d pull off the sheet for the last month and throw it away. These calendars would be attached to a metal strip and hanger. Before 1914, sizing was not very consistent. After that year, sizing can be used to date a calendar: 13 inches by 32 inches (1914-19); 12 inches by 32 inches (1920-22); 12 inches by 24 inches (1923-1940).
The one exception is the 1926 calendar, which was an unusual size (10 ½ inches by 18 ? inches) and made of a thick card stock. Instead of the metal hanger, it had a hole drilled at the top. It was the first year the calendar pad featured a cover sheet, which read, “Compliments of The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, GA.” This cover sheet wasn’t standard until 1930.
From 1941 to the 1960s, calendars were produced as flip pads with six different sheets and a cover. Each calendar page featured an image and two consecutive months. During the World War II, the women in the calendars were depicted working at war plants or serving overseas. After the war, the calendars were more likely to show groups of teenagers as youth culture exploded.
Then, in 1953, Coca-Cola started offering a smaller “home calendar” in addition to the larger “store calendars.” And these new home calendars usually contained dog paintings, flower prints, or bird illustrations. Since home calendars were given as Christmas gifts, these often featured Santa Claus on the cover.
In the 1960s, the Coca-Cola Company also gave top customers and employees small metal business calendars known as “calendar displays.” A pad for the individual days of the week would be screwed into the high-quality metal back plate, and these could be changed every year. The 1961 calendar display features the “archiform” logo, which was discontinued by the company in 1963.
As disposable items, antique Coca-Cola calendars are not easy to find. Calendars before 1914 are rare, while those before 1910 are extremely rare. Even so, these calendars lose their value if there is not at least one sheet of the original calendar pad attached or if they’ve been trimmed from their original size. Sometimes the owners would cut the calendar area off all together after the year had past. Other times, the pad would be replaced with a new one for the new year. If the pad is partial or if the calendar is mounted to poster board, is it not considered mint.
Sometimes calendars for the international market can be found. Those from the 1930s and '40s have the same imagery as the U.S. calendars, but the type is in different languages. Calendars in the 1950s, however, also depicted the people and culture of the country the calendar was distributed in.