A new voice has entered the debate about when the original Coca-Cola mural was painted on the side of a downtown Mount Airy building.
Carroll Coleson, an avid Coca-Cola memorabilia collector and former employee at the Mount Airy bottling plant, followed news of the June 2015 mural restoration at 185 N. Main Street with great interest.
“He gets excited about anything Coca-Cola,” said his wife, Betty Coleson.
A July 2015 article published in The News addressed how local residents disagreed about when the existing sign had been painted on the building, which originally had been estimated at 1915 or before until some folks came forward with the claim that the sign couldn’t have been painted prior to the 1930s.
“When I read the article in the paper, I knew they were wrong about the dates,” Carroll Coleson said.
The 1915 estimate had been based on old photographs and accounts pieced together by Barbara McMillian, who owns the building where the sign is located.
That time frame was questioned by Ann Taylor Leonard, whose family owned the building in the 1930s, and who supplied a photograph from that era that doesn’t seem to show the mural. A photograph supplied by Leonard from that era has no Coke sign visible.
Walter Leonard Jr., the owner of the downtown store Leonard’s Jewelers, was 86 when that article was published in the summer and remembered that when he was young, the coke sign wasn’t there.
McMillian noted in the article that the design of the bottle pictured in the mural, which is an older, square-typed version, indicated that the mural predated the 1930s, when the iconic contoured bottle would have been widely used.
Regardless of when the mural had been painted, Coleson knew from experience that the square bottle in the mural far predated the 1930s.
The Lowgap resident had worked for Coke from 1960 to 1983, working on the line bottling for the first nine years.
“We had a lot of fun,” he said. “We played a whole lot, cut up. But we got the job done.”
Betty Coleson said, “That’s where he was working when we met,” Betty Coleson said.
For the remaining 17 years, Carroll Coleson ran a delivery route within the Mount Airy city limits.
Snappy Lunch was one of his stops.
Coleson became interested in the history and iconography of the company and started collecting what would become memorabilia, an odd shaped bottle here and there, or items given from Coca-Cola as employee rewards.
His passion for all things Coke has never dwindled, and his collection continues to grow.
He’s got several bottles, original issued trays, a small fountain glass that was used before the beverage was even sold in bottles, a one-sided 45 rpm record of I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke.
He’s got Christmas ornaments, a Coke truck, a Coke watch, a radio shaped like a vintage Coke machine.
“It played good,” he said.
One particular item came to mind when the town’s historical Coca-cola puzzle hit the newsstand.
“I started looking for my Christmas bottle,” he said, referring to a special edition contoured bottle that was dated 1923.
Coleson figured the bottle would provide a piece to that puzzle.
But he couldn’t find it. He still can’t find it.
“I’ve got quite a bit of stuff,” he said. “It’s packed away somewhere or another.”
But the history trail grew hot again for the Colesons in the form of a collector set containing six miniature bottles, all shaped differently, reflecting the evolution of the Coca-Cola bottle.
The first bottle in the series was a replica of the square-shaped “Hutchinson” bottle, the one featured in the Mount Airy mural, and the description on the box said the bottle had been issued in 1899.
The next bottle, a more rounded version on its way to fully contoured, was issued in 1900.
Mystery solved, if not for the mural painting question, at least for the bottle’s date.
Betty Coleson had seen the collector set for sale at Publishers Clearing House and bought it as a gift for her husband, whom she knew had been on the hunt for a Hutchinson bottle.
“I ordered it for our anniversary, which is three days before Christmas,” she said.
But the surprise was almost ruined, when the pair, who have been married for 53 years, saw the set on one of their frequent Coca-Cola antiquing expeditions.
“I was afraid he was going to buy it,” Betty Coleson said.
“When we looked at it in Winston I saw the date,” Carroll Coleson said.
“I really didn’t know when but I knew it was before 1930,” he said. “I got excited about it. Knowing some of the history made it more enjoyable.”
As far as the mural goes, McMillian said the new information adds weight to the pre-1915 theory.
“If he can date that bottle, that’s the bottle,” she said.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.