Collecting Calendars: Fun New Year After New Year

This time of year, walk into any bookstore or retailer and you’ll be bombarded by a mind-boggling assortment of calendars for virtually every subject or interest, no matter how obscure. After a year, most will end up in the trash, but a rare few will weather the vagaries of time and taste to become collectibles.

Marilyn Monroe’s iconic “Golden Dreams” nude pose from 1952 is the epitome of calendar collectibles—with authentic specimens fetching hundreds or thousands of bucks—but the Big Bang of the modern calendar industry can be traced to the early 1970s when a handful of savvy publishers realized there was a mint to be made from what had previously been primarily a giveaway—and throwaway—advertising item you got free from the local Texaco.

Calendars go from throwaways to collectibles

Suddenly people were not only buying calendars featuring their favorite pop-culture fetishes but saving them, too, as collectibles. Often packaged in cardboard mailers or envelopes that encouraged hoarding, calendars from this era routinely turn up in online auctions in excellent condition at budget-conscious prices.

The following is an introductory primer examining some of the most time-tested and fan-favorite calendars of the last 30 years.

B. KLIBAN’S CAT—In 1975, Workman Publishing Co. released “Cat,” “Playboy” cartoonist Bernard Kliban’s flaky take on felines (“one hell of a nice animal, frequently mistaken for a meatloaf”). Showcasing Kliban’s tubby black-and-white tabbies engaging in anthropomorphic antics taken to surreal extremes, the book was a phenomenal hit, launching a merchandising juggernaut that included T-shirts, posters, mugs and, of course, calendars.

Oh, those Kliban cats, their first calendar, 1978

Workman released the first Kliban Cat Calendar in 1977 with new illustrations by the artist and some retreads from “Cat.” It became the bestselling calendar in the U.S. that year, a feat duplicated every year through 1981. The series later went to a larger, full-color format and today is published by Pomegranate, with the cartoonist’s widow (Kliban died in 1990), Judith Kamman Kliban, guiding the brand with affection and intelligence and assuring fans of always having a wacka-wacka year, as Kliban would say. Take a look at Kliban’s site.

MARVEL COMICS—Debuting in 1975 from Simon & Schuster, this calendar line brilliantly tapped into fanboys’ rabid interest in the Marvel mythos and featured sumptuous illustrations by a who’s who of comic-art masters, including John Romita (cover artist on most editions), John Buscema, George Perez, Herb Trimpe, Frank Brunner, Gil Kane, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby, Mike Ploog, Barry Windsor-Smith and many more.

The first three Marvel Comics calendars, 1975-1977

The date boxes are replete with clever graphics and irreverent notes, quotes, plugs and milestones celebrating not only Marvel’s vast universe of characters but also its creators, known affectionately as the bullpen, whose birthdays are acknowledged throughout. Following the 1975 calendar, subsequent editions were themed: 1976—Bicentennial; 1977—Memory Album; 1978—Spider-Man (arguably the best early Marvel calendar, with gorgeous art panels and a special “anti-Spidey” edition of The Daily Bugle); 1979—The Hulk; 1980—Doctor Strange; 1981—20th Anniversary.

“STAR TREK” AND “STAR WARS”—Ballantine Books issued the first “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” photo calendars in 1976 and 1978, respectively. Ingeniously packaged inside sturdy cardboard mailers, the calendars were ready to be shipped to your favorite Vulcan in a galaxy far, far away (ye geeks, pardon the mixed metaphor, please). The 1976-1979 “Classic Trek” calendars feature the anal-retentive innovation of “stardates”—January 1, 1976, becomes 7601.01, for instance—in addition to traditional dates (which Trekkies are not known for having). Both calendar lines sport nifty center-spread posters devoted to the franchises’ iconic characters.

The first three “Star Trek” calendars, 1976-1978

The inaugural “Star Wars” calendar, 1978, with cardboard mailer

J.R.R. TOLKIEN—The storied history of collectible Middle Earth calendars dates back to 1968 with the publication of an ultrarare fanzine insert with illustrations by noted fan artist Tim Kirk. Amazingly, with the exception of 1983, there has been at least one Tolkien calendar issued annually between 1973 and 2009, with many years seeing seven or more distinct entities from major and independent publishers and Tolkien societies.

Ballantine Books offered the first “official” Tolkien calendar in 1973, featuring drawings by Professor Tolkien and Pauline Baynes, beginning a long association with the brand that peaked creatively with a trio of calendars (1976-1978) illustrated by fantasy legends Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.

J.R.R. Tolkien calendars from late 1977 and 1978 with artwork by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Other notable Ballantine releases include the first “Lord of the Rings” movie tie-in calendar (1979), promoting Ralph Bakshi’s animated adaptation, and the Great Illustrators Edition (1981), with paintings by Douglas Beekman, Michael Herring, Rowena Morrill and Judy King Rieniets. Rare collectible editions with limited print runs include: Beyond Bree, first published in 1985 by the American Mensa Tolkien Special Interest Group and the Pant-Hoot J.R.R. Tolkien Memorial Calendar 1975, the first American Tolkien Society calendar. To see more, go to The Compleat Gyde to Tolkien Calendars.

“THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW”—Photo wall calendars devoted to TV’s most beloved sitcom date back to 1989. One of the rarest and most collectible is the 1992 edition from John F. Blair, a North Carolina-based publisher that released the first authoritative book on the show in 1981. The calendar is chockablock with Mayberry milestones and trivia compiled by Ken Beck and Jim Clark, longtime guiding lights of The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club (TAGSRWC). Another rarity is the 40th Anniversary Commemorative Calendar from American Classics celebrating the series’ October 3, 1960, debut.

J.R.R. Tolkien calendars from late 1977 and 1978 with artwork by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Day Dream Publishing, the world’s largest calendar company, has produced a TAGS calendar yearly since 2004. That first effort was dubbed “infamous and highly collectible” by TAGSRWC because every photo is inexplicably reversed! Collectors prize subsequent editions for similarly endearing production gaffes. For instance, the 2007 edition includes a still of Griffith and co-star Don Knotts from the feature film “No Time for Sergeants.”

Kevin Cook is a pop-culture junkie who owns more calendars than is normal for a grown man.

WorthPoint—Get the Most from Your Antiques and Collectibles

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  1. Yes, I believe that the J.R.R. Collectibles, even though they aren’t antiques yet, will be a great long term investment.