Weston Dodson Calendar Art
By NCM Historian Martha Capwell-Fox
Click on any of the images below to enlarge
Many of us carry our calendars around in our phones—compact, at our fingertips, and always available (as long as the battery lasts). And, unlike most other media in our electronically-connected world, no ads!
But many businesses and organizations still give out free paper calendars every December. That’s been going on ever since the Calendar Company of Greenville, Tennessee first printed an almanac calendar promoting its patent medicines and the pharmacies that sold them in 1876. They soon found that calendars for businesses were more profitable than dubious drugs. More than 140 years later, Calendar Company prints tens of thousands of custom calendars for every business from Asian food suppliers to wrecker towing companies.
Why? Because a calendar is a great way to keep your organization’s name, products, and contact info in front of customers or donors, regular or potential, every day of the year.
These days, though, no calendars are like the ones the Weston Dodson Company of Bethlehem used to promote its business in the 1890s and early 1900s.
Weston Dodson sold mass quantities of something everybody needed—coal. Its empire spanned Pennsylvania’s hard (anthracite) and soft (bituminous) coal fields and reached into Maryland and West Virginia, so it met the energy needs of a wide range of customers. Every year it commissioned beautifully drawn artworks that flaunt its mines, breakers, shipping points, and docks, and apparently had them printed up for the type of calendar with tear-off sheets for each month.
Each of the nine Weston Dodson Company original drawings in the National Canal Museum’s collection is on grey or white cardboard and is incredibly detailed. Equally amazing is that they survived for well over a century in a battered cardboard box discovered in a South Bethlehem basement when David and Jean Fair cleaned out the home of a deceased relative in 2018. The Fairs are dedicated D&L volunteers, and David is a National Canal Museum docent.
But like most local residents, they were unaware that a major coal company had once had its headquarters in Bethlehem, in a building that is still standing at 528 N. New Street. In the early 1950s, with the anthracite industry declining precipitously, Weston Dodson was bought out by Lehigh Coal & Navigation, which then moved its own offices into the building. A bronze LCN medallion in the lobby floor is now the only reminder of the building’s history.