In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, firearms and supply companies, including Winchester, Remington, DuPont and the Peters Cartridge Co., produced beautiful advertising campaigns, employing artists and illustrators who constitute a roll call for who’s who of American illustrators and painters of sporting art. These companies produced posters and print advertisements, but the calendars they produced were an integral part of their campaigns, with some companies producing them for nearly 50 years. Today, these turn-of-the century advertisements are considered works of art and are highly collectible; the early calendars are generally the scarcest and command the highest prices.
The Winchester Repeating Arms Co. of New Haven, Conn., created some of the earliest advertising campaigns that featured calendars and produced them nearly every year from 1887 through 1934, with a few exceptions. Winchester’s calendars are considered among the most highly prized among collectors due to their quality and the caliber of the artists Winchester commissioned. Frederick Remington (1861-1909), famous for his paintings of the west and his Harper’s Weekly illustrations, was an early contributor to the calendars, rendering illustrations for four calendars from 1891 to 1894. Over the years, Winchester also employed famed illustrator N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) and sporting artist and Harper’s Weekly illustrator Arthur Budett Frost (1851-1928). Phillip R. Goodwin (1882-1935), a student of Howard Pyle, provided art for several calendars. He produced a painting called “Horse and Rider” that became Winchester’s trademark.
Collectors also highly value calendars made by the Peters Cartridge Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, which was a major supplier of gunpowder and ammunition for American sportsmen. Peters advertising calendars began in 1897 and were produced until 1931. The calendars featured works by artists such as Gustav Muss-Arnolt (1858 -1927) and Lynn Bogue Hunt (1878-1960), both prolific American artists who specialized in sporting art.
The Remington Arms Co. of Ilion, N.Y., and DuPont Powder Co. of Wilmington, Del., also produced striking advertising. Advertisement calendars from these companies make great additions to a new collection, as they feature art by recognizable American artists but can still be won at auction for reasonable prices. For example, DuPont used many animal portraits by sporting artist Edmund Osthaus (1858-1928).
In 1911, DuPont commissioned Howard Pyle, considered the father of American illustration, to represent the DuPont Powder Wagon for that year’s calendar. The caption indicated the DuPont Powder Wagon carried gunpowder to Lake Erie to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, which he used to defeat the British fleet. Artists often worked for several companies; Phillip Goodwin, for instance, illustrated for Remington, the Marlin Firearms Co. of New Haven, Conn., as well as Winchester. N.C. Wyeth also produced works for both Remington and Winchester.
Collecting firearms advertising, especially calendars, is an interesting endeavor with plenty of opportunities to find great pieces. There are even trade shows that focus primarily on early firearms advertisements. Today, collectors pay large sums for advertisements that were produced during the late 19th century, but a collection can easily be started for a reasonable amount of money. As one might expect, there are numerous reproductions on the market, so collectors must use caution. Improper metal bands on calendars are a dead giveaway that a calendar is a later-made reproduction.
Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. Wes holds a B.A. and M.A. in anthropology from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan. He is a frequently requested speaker at antiques events around the country. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. Research by Joe Moran.
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