During the late 1800s, as the final railroad tracks were laid, connecting the East and West coasts of the United States, printers mastered the art of color lithography. Railway executives, who understood the value of printed timetables, saw a tremendous opportunity in advertising calendars, too. Before TV and radio, paper advertising was king. But unlike a newspaper or magazine ad, which was thrown away after the publication had been read, a calendar image would be posted in a home for at least a year, maybe longer.
Employing new chromolithography, the railroads issued calendars depicting their celebrated locomotives, beautiful landscapes along their paths, cute babies, and even pin-up girls. They often hired the top commercial artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to create their imagery. And to get these ads on people’s walls, these gorgeous calendars were given away for free and hung prominently in ticket offices.
Even though the railroads produce promotional calendars to this day, the most desirable railroad calendars for collectors are the early lithographed giveaways. In fact, few railw...
Some early calendars featured clever gimmicks, like the 1896 “perpetual calendar” issued by the Cleveland Lorain and Wheeling Railway, which featured a rotating disc that changed the month and days of the week. Another novelty calendar, the 1897 giveaway for the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, was die-cut into the shape of a mail bag, to emphasize the quick mail service.
Certain railroads offered more than one choice of calendar design. A slightly risqué image of a couple in bathing suits could be swapped for a calendar featuring a modestly dressed pair. Other railways produced calendars that touted their safety and comfort, or the promised lands they would deliver you to, whether it was sunny California or the next World’s Fair.
But railways were not the only companies to use railroadiana imagery in their advertising calendars. Hotels near train depots produced train-themed calendars, while the Travelers Insurance Company, the first company to issue an accident policy in the United States, was an early adopter of train imagery in its advertising calendars.
The top locomotives, which had captured the public’s imagination, were undoubtedly the stars of these calendars. Often the calendar images were reproductions of popular railroad paintings, and these were coveted long after the calendar was outdated. The days-of-the-month pages would be chopped off, and the remaining images would be framed. In fact, calendar images are often found in their original frames.
In particular, collectors cover the 1920s art calendars made for New York Central Railroad, starring its esteemed Twentieth Century Limited, painted by William Harnden Foster in 1922 and by Walter L. Greene in 1926. The celebrated steam engines of the Pennsylvania Railroad, painted by Grif Teller, are also highly desirable calendars.
The Great Northern Railway, starting in 1928, published a series of monthly calendars with reproductions of Winhold Reiss’ paintings of the Blackfoot tribe in Glacier National Park. Thanks to the wide circulation of these calendars, these images are iconic today.
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Clubs & Associations: Railroadiana
- Key, Lock and Lantern, Inc.
- Railroadiana Collectors Association, Inc.
- National Association of Timetable Collectors
- National Railway Historical Society