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Groundbreaking Calendar: Q&A with Confederate Calendar creator Lawrence T. Jones III

In 1976, Larry Jones of Austin, Texas, created and printed the first Confederate Calendar. Little could he have imagined that it would be the start of a life-changing journey as a publisher and collector focused on historic Texas images. When he ended the series 32 years later, he did so with the satisfaction of unearthing hundreds of Southern military portraits, the vast majority published for the first time. Larry’s friend and mentor, the legendary Herb Peck, Jr., insisted that the Calendars “helped to increase interest in Southern photography and helped to bring about a new generation of collectors.”

In this exclusive interview, Larry discusses the origins of the Confederate Calendar and his experiences during its long and successful run.

Q: How did you come to conceive the first Confederate Calendar? Did you have any idea when you started that you’d publish them for more than three decades?

As a boy and young man, I was interested in American history. My ancestors immigrated to the U.S. in the 1760s, and began their lives in York, S.C. Some of them eventually moved to Georgia and Tennessee before moving to Texas in the mid-1870s. They were volunteers in the American Revolution, and several saw service in the Confederate Army with the 53rd Tennessee Infantry, 66th Georgia Infantry and other regiments. I was born in Greenville, Texas, and spent a good deal of my younger life with my maternal grandparents. Over many an evening supper table, I listened intently to family stories they heard from their grandparents and great-grandparents. As a result, I began to focus my interest in history on the American Civil War.

During a business trip to Chicago in 1973, I was walking around the Old Town area and visiting shops, when I saw and purchased a calendar that dealt with the history of Native Americans. Each month showed an illustration of a famous individual, and each day had a listing of an historical event related to the history of the native people in our country. I kept that calendar for several years because I really liked the concept of it. At the same time, I was a subscriber to Civil War Times Illustrated magazine (CWTI). Many readers may remember that the magazine’s back cover featured a portrait of a federal or Confederate soldier. Most of these photographs were credited to Herb Peck, Jr., a man I had never met and didn’t know.      

By 1975, I was working as a private investigator for a trial lawyer in northeast Texas. The attorney had recently bought a print shop that was adjacent to his law office. He wanted to print something “fresh” as a trial run for the new presses. Because of my ancestry, I came up with the idea of producing a calendar that would be illustrated with only Confederate soldier images with listings of important and obscure events that occurred during the Civil War. I made a list of 365 events to fill each day and found some relatively common photographs for about half of the 12 months. But I needed something better to augment those images.

One night, I called the man whose credit line I had seen on so many photographs in CWTI. I was nervous when calling Herb Peck because I was asking for something from somebody who didn’t know me. But Herb was friendly. He liked the idea of a Confederate Calendar and agreed to provide me with enough 8-by-10 black and white copy prints to fill it out.

Larry, right, receives a delivery of calendars in Austin from The Whitley Printing Company, about 1983. Courtesy Lawrence T. Jones III.

The first calendar was published in 1976. We tried to produce 1,000 copies, but we were so amateurish at it that I remember only being able to print about 900. The lawyer suggested that I try selling some of the calendars to help pay for the printing costs and so I ran a simple classified ad in CWTI. I really didn’t expect much to happen. Then one day two orders showed up, and the next day 7-8 more orders arrived. The orders just kept coming, and I was amazed at the result of that classified ad. With those orders I began to compile a customer mailing list just in case we ever wanted to produce another calendar. The 1976 edition basically sold out and I think I may have kept 2-3 copies as souvenirs of that first effort.

I plowed the money from sales into producing a second Confederate Calendar.

Never in a million years did I believe I would continue to publish the calendar for 32 consecutive years.

After three years of producing the Confederate Calendar, I left my job as a private investigator and moved to Austin, Texas, to live full-time. I was self-employed from that time to this day. In the 32 years of publishing, I sold about 145,000 calendars. I had a great and very loyal mailing list, and also developed relationships with wholesale outlets such as the Eastern National Park and Monument Association. These companies sold the calendar in Civil War battlefield gift shops.

Q: According to one biography, you started collecting in the 1970s. The first calendar dates to 1976. How closely were the two connected?

It was Herb who convinced me that I should start collecting good Civil War images. So, I began to collect in 1977. Those were the days when one would buy from dealers’ lists and/or purchase or trade with other collectors. I recall buying an identified Virginia Confederate for $47.50 from a small staple-stitched catalog produced by a fellow named John Hess. But most of my better acquisitions came from older and more experienced collectors such as Herb and Bill Turner.

Q: When and how did you focus on Texas images?

It would be 20 years before I began to seriously focus my collection on 19th century Texas images. I always collected and still collect identified Texas Confederates, but also federal soldiers who served in Texas. However, I also found it worthwhile to collect non-military Texas images of varying subject matter and in all formats. As a young collector, the thought never occurred to me that some of the things I was collecting would become quite valuable in time. Like most collectors, I collected because it was fun. I seldom wrote down or kept any type of inventory of what I bought and paid. I also began selling images that were not related to my area of interest, and that included many great images of federal soldiers and Confederates that I was unable to identify.

An aside: I would say that at least 75 percent of the Civil War Confederate images I found in Texas ended up being soldiers from states other than Texas. This is a result of Southerners moving here after the war and bringing their family heirlooms with them. Today, on dealer sites I’ll see unidentified images that surfaced in Texas called Texas Confederates. Without ironclad provenance, that is little more than pure speculation. Some of these are offered by long-time dealers and I see a lot of this now on social media sites such as Facebook. The same thing goes for any soldier with a swarthy complexion. Sellers will assume that they must be Native American Confederates. In my opinion, most of them are just American young men with swarthy complexions because of various European ancestry.

Q: Who are your mentors as a collector?

Herb Peck, Jr., and William Alden “Bill” Turner.

Q: How did the Confederate Calendar shape you as a collector?

It made me realize how important it is to have ironclad provenance and/or documentation on images. I made some mistakes in the calendar, some of which I attribute to my inexperience as a new collector, and some from folks who provided photographs with spurious identification. I also recall publishing an early postwar tintype that later I discovered had fake identification. And, one year I got two brothers confused and identified them incorrectly. I don’t know for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I didn’t publish some gray-clad but unidentified federal soldier as a Confederate.

Collectors are so much more sophisticated today than back in the 1980s. The Internet, along with the growing sophistication of publications such as Military Images, has greatly increased our understanding of Union and Confederate images. For me, the Confederate Calendar seems somewhat primitive when compared to current publications. But Herb always insisted to me that the Confederate Calendar helped to increase interest in Southern photography and helped to bring about a new generation of collectors. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it was flattering to hear him say that.

Q: What were the biggest challenges in publishing the calendars?

The calendar business is the most demanding there is in publishing. Calendars have a short lifespan and must be sold in a narrow time frame. I discovered it was necessary to have the calendar printed by June if I expected to be successful in selling them for the following year. Almost all wholesale customers wanted the calendar to be available by June in order to meet summer tourist demands. This was especially true for vendors such as the Museum of the Confederacy and the National Parks. Additionally, advertisements in CWTI had to be ready to go in their September issue (at that time it was a monthly publication). So, a lot of lead-time was necessary for each calendar. Retail sales cranked up in late September and October, especially after I sent notices to my customer mailing list. I would sell so many single copies in October that it was hard just to keep up. There were days when I would ship anywhere from 50 to 80 single issues, while at the same time refilling wholesale orders when the vendor had sold out. By the time sales slowed down, it was the middle of February. That left me a little less than three months to have the next calendar ready. It became a full-time job. I could never fall behind time-wise because of required deadlines for wholesale customers and advertising outlets. It turned out to be more work than I ever anticipated, but people loved it and I just kept on plowing profits into the next calendar. I made just enough money to live on and have enough left over for the next calendar. It reminded me of a farmer with an annual crop, so to speak.

Q: Greatest joy?

Becoming friends with so many people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. This is especially true of families who sent me photographs of their Confederate ancestors. Many of these images have appeared only in the Confederate Calendar and have never been reproduced elsewhere.

Another great joy for me was the pride of being the first to publish fabulous and previously unknown images of Confederates, such as a daguerreotype of future Confederate general Stephen Dodson Ramseur and his friend Frank Huger as West Point cadets, future general Micah Jenkins when he was colonel of the 5th South Carolina Infantry, generals John B. Grayson, William Wirt Adams, General Samuel Bell Maxey, Hiram B. Granbury and future general Earl Van Dorn, when he was still serving in Texas before the war. The now well-known image of Andrew Martin Chandler and his slave/body servant, Silas, made its first appearance in a Confederate Calendar. So, there were many firsts, and I have only mentioned a few here.

When I wrote about identified Confederate images, I based my statements on the Confederate Service Records, or CSRs, as my old friend Robert K. “Bob” Krick called them.

Q: The early years of the calendar, before this magazine was founded by Harry Roach, and before Albaugh’s Confederate Faces and Mast’s North Carolina State Troops & Volunteers, places you among the earliest publishers of Civil War portraits. Looking back, thoughts
about those times compared to today?

I published over 400 Confederate or Confederate-related images in the 32 years of the calendar’s run. It wasn’t just 12 photos for the 12 months of the year. I’d put images on the inside cover and back cover, so many calendars had at least 14 images. Sometimes, I reproduced two images on one page, especially if they were unidentified and I couldn’t write too much about them. So many individuals sent me copy prints over those three decades that I still have several hundred that never made it to the calendar. Unfortunately, I was just limited as to how many I could publish each year.

In hindsight, I might have been smarter to produce a magazine like Harry Roach did with the initial issues of Military Images. That certainly would have made it possible to publish many more previously unseen Confederate images.

The times then compared to today were so much different. We didn’t have computers and couldn’t send color scans instantly. Almost every photo I received for publication was a black and white photo. Everything was done in the mail. When Bill or Herb would send me something, it was in the format of a photocopy. We just called them xeroxes.

I still have a large file folder filled with letters from Herb, and they reflect his humor and the times back then.

Today, everything is so sophisticated and research sources are easily available online. Back then, if one wanted to order a Confederate Service Record from the National Archives, one had to fill out a form, send them 10 bucks and wait anywhere from 2-3 months for the records to arrive. Everything was much slower. So slow, in fact, that sometimes I could not reproduce an image in the calendar because I was still waiting for the records to arrive.

Another difference today is that many collectors don’t seem to spend the money buying reference books like many of us did back then. I often see folks on Facebook sites who will want to know something about the photo they have found and expect somebody to hand-feed them all of the pertinent information. I don’t mind sharing information with new collectors, but sometimes I just want to tell them what Herb told me: ‘Everybody has to learn.’ This quote was in response to me showing him a tintype of a federal soldier that I had just bought at a show that had been faked up by painting gold C.S. rank insignia on his collar and ‘chicken guts’ on his coat sleeves. I was inexperienced and so embarrassed at my purchase that I didn’t even ask for my money back.

Q: Why did you decide to end the series in 2008?

I ended the series for one reason. In 2008, the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas offered to purchase my entire collection.

The beginning of that process was simply being in the right place at the right time. I had never really entertained the idea of selling my collection, which consisted of almost 5,000 19th and early 20th century Texas photographs. But they wanted it and so I had to consider it.

The process of selling it to them required two appraisals and a search for comparable collections to determine the value. The first appraiser informed me that it would take months to do and that my full-time assistance would be required. I knew I couldn’t do both the calendar and work on the appraisal at the same time. And, I was getting older, was still self-employed, and without a serious retirement system. I gave it a great deal of thought and decided it was time to make a change in my life. So, I stopped publishing the calendar and worked on the detailed list of images in my collection and the required appraisal. The entire process, from start to signing the contract, took eight months.

When the final numbers were tallied, I was astounded at the value. I sold the collection with no regrets. SMU built a beautiful website for the ‘Jones’ collection. Of course, they could not put the entire collection online, but the highlights are available at digitalcollections.smu.edu/all/cul/jtx/. The collection is easy to search by keywords and I’m told it gets more hits than any other site at SMU.

Following the sale, I wrote Lens on the Texas Frontier, which was published by Texas A&M University Press in 2014. The book is in full color and has hundreds of 19th century Texas images, including Confederates, and valuable reference appendices. The book won four awards and has been sold out and out of print for at least three years. I have found copies available online at often crazy prices.

Q: Are the Confederate Calendars part of the
Lawrence T. Jones III Texas photography collection, 1846-1945, at SMU?

Yes.

Q: What question are you asked most often about the calendar?

Although it hasn’t been published in 13 years, the question I am most asked are the ones that come in the form of phone calls or letters from individuals who want to know if they can still buy a Confederate Calendar. This happens on a monthly basis—maybe one to three times a month. I still have some back issues of the last 5-6 years but have never seriously attempted to market them.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about the calendar?

I still appreciate all of the private collectors who were willing to share some of their best Confederate images with me. There are too many to name here, but you know who you are, and I’ll always be grateful to you because the Confederate Calendar was such a big part of my life.


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