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eBay Angel

Updated: 5 days ago

Most days I reach out to an eBay seller about his or her listing, to offer up information that will help them get the best results. Sometimes it's a capgun holster that's in the eBay listings with the real ones, and the opposite, too. Or the fitment is noted as 'unknown' when it's obvious what it's for, or the era the item was made is incorrect, or the marque is there but not in the auction title. Etc.

Ok, big deal. Today's -- well actually, yesterday's -- is/was perhaps the rarest and most valuable to all Berns-Martin "Lightnings". I suggested to the seller that eBay was perhaps not the best way to get the highest price and he, understandably, cancelled the auction:

These were made very differently from the Lightnings we modern types know so well from the 1950s. The originals were made of horsehide not cowhide, and the harness is integrated into the same piece of leather that the body is. Jack would have used the cut of horsehide called a 'front' to get large enough pieces to accomplish this as what's left -- the 'strip' and the 'shell' -- are far too small and generally reserved by the tannery for veg tannage to suit expensive shoes and their soles. Below the Lightnings of the 1950s, made as a pair (not the harness which is not original) because the maker's marks are on opposite sides:

Most -- OK, everyone but me -- will look at the fist image and say, 'so?'. But the construction clues tell us that this one was one of the very first ever made by Jack Martin. In 1934 he wrote to a friend, letter courtesy John Witty's collection, that he had perfected his upside down holster and it was 'lightning fast'. The significance of this is that he was writing from aboard his ship in NY harbour, and he made his holsters there not with the familiar Calhoun City mark that did not yet exist, but with the tiny steel stamps that said 'Berns-Martin' and no more. Below is after 1935 when Berns' patent had issued:

The next rarest is an FOH's holding of a Speed holster that has this mark plus only E.E. Clark's patent number so early 1930s; John Berns' own patent had not yet issued. In both cases Martin was still in the Navy and would not return to his home in Calhoun City until the death of this father mid-1930s. A 1950 article by Elmer Keith noted that Berns-Martin had only just then resumed operations after the war; and it was in that year that the more familiar mark appeared:

I have images of one of these belts with the 1930s marking on it, too. Jack wrote that he would only make his new 'lightning fast' holster for the Colt Detective etc because he had one. The Air Force trials, though, of circa 1950 yielded the aluminium framed Agent and the S&W J frames that were the Centennial and Bodyguard, preceded by the Chief's Special of which major client Evaluators Ltd. got one of the very first that also had the small trigger guard.

Of course the Berns-Martin's of Elmer's are the rarest, of which we count his 'First Set' as mentioned in his 1932 article introducing the marque, his 'Second Set' that is more sophisticated but marking unknown (there are no markings on the First Set), and his own exact copy of that upside down Lightning that I've shown at the start of this blog post. These though are in a special class of custom builts of which Charlie Askins was also a recipient.

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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