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Dancing With Myself

Updated: Nov 11

With apologies to Billy Idol, this morning I received a long-sought Berns-Martin "Triple Draw" shoulder holster. "Dancing with myself" because I am the current trademark holder of Berns-Martin for gunleather. Prior owners were Bianchi Holsters (from 1974), the Elberton operation (from 1963), the Calhoun City operation (from 1950), closed up for WW2, then Jack Martin's Navy shipboard operation (from 1930). Bianchi's new owners allowed the mark to lapse and after the appropriate decades I scooped it up, registering it again in 2018 or so. Hindsight shows that my own mark, Red Nichols Holsters, is far stronger! Ask Mr. Google.

This new arrival is an Elberton, which generally are not nearly as well-crafted as the prior Calhoun City models yet this one is handsomely built:

Mine polished up nicely from that (above) using Fiebing's Tan Kote, which is rubbed in and polished in two applications (below). Yes, same holster:

The Triple-Draw that Jack Martin described in 1934 as "lightning fast" was also known by that name (Lightning) when configured solely for shoulder holster use, and as the Triple Draw when configured for belt and shoulder use, the former belt use including upside down crossdraw (!). Images of the Triple Draw being worn all these ways that were sent by Geoffrey Boothroyd to Ian Fleming in his effort to persuade Fleming to arm Bond with the then-new Centennial are lost to time. Below is Witty's late model B-M "Lightning" and it has the cotton webbing harness that then didn't need holes punched into it to adjust the buckles; clever. And could be laundered.

Here's Jack Martin showing all three positions of the Triple Draw, from a Jeff Cooper book:

Tan Kote first dissolves what it can of the old finish (rub it in using a sheepswool pad) then blends it into the leather and the stitching. Leaves it looking like a brand new Bianchi holster of the '70s, which were so-treated but using Fiebing's Harness Dressing that is no long available in uncoloured. Bianchi holsters were stitched with the same linen threads that B-Ms were and JB wanted the dressing to tone down the white thread so it wouldn't look cheap like a JayPee, for example. Gotta say that he was right on the money, and Bianchis had the look of Heisers and Myres, with the deep, rich full-grain leathers finished as what's called 'aniline' (so, not painted like a J.M. Bucheimer; or a a JayPee. Puh, Easterners!)

I bought it cheaply meaning to disassemble it, to show you what it looks like inside. Now I doubt I will because this one has a literally 'snappy' spring that 'pops' when the forefinger is flicked through the closure. On the other hand it's not nearly strong enough for inverted carry, given that my spring tester for spring holsters reads only about 5# closing force when at least 10# is desirable (and some like the X-15 run to 15#). What's clever is that the wire inside runs behind the recoil shields of what was originally a Colt 2" in .38 Special, then the J frame Smiths in that caliber were added in the very early '50s. If I do take it apart I'll use a knife in the stitch seams, which will then tell us: by hand, or by machine (the little cut pieces of thread are different in the one than in the other).

Above, Elmer Keith with his rare 4" in 1944. In that time the harness was made from the same horsehide leather of the holster and the two were combined into a single piece.

From the Lightning came the knowledge that we at Bianchi could solve the unexpected problem of Chief's Specials falling out of the all-new 9R inverted shoulder holster that JB intended to surpass the Triple Draw by having cylinder recesses. "Ohhh, that's what that little hand-sewn leather welt is for at the revolver's muzzle: it keeps the revolver from turning inside the holster pocket and allowing inertia to pop the pistol right out through the mouth!". I added ia post-and-screw with a rubber grommet in place of the leather welt, allowing us to retrofit any returns from the field. Witty owns one that is marked 'prototype'.

For retention no inverted (strapless) shoulder holster can equal even the fifty-year old Bianchi 9R-1 or -2 (there was a -3 but we didn't actually so-mark them). If I do say so myself. And I do, It, too, was a 'triple draw' and more by having not one set of belt slots but another on the outside for LH wear; so a Quadruple Draw :-):

Below, Berns-Martin's earliest catalogue offering of their shoulder holster is 1951's because that's when the Chief's Special was introduced, and there are no prior catalogues with the Triple Draw et al, nor are there any extant shoulder holsters w/out the famed Calhoun City mark that began in 1950 or so. This one is 1953's, the prior 1951 catalogue with its mention of the CS does not call the setup out as 'Triple Draw' (first time I've noticed this):

Read more in my book titled "Holstory -- Gunleather of the Twentieth Century -- the Second Edition" that is available at and printed for you/shipped to you in USA.

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