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Even a Blind Squirrel Finds a Nut Sometimes

Updated: Nov 7

An early spring holster called the Sterling had defied positive identification until today, when an FOH sending along pics of his newly acquired holster we were already thinking was a Sterling. And that led me to reexamine a fragment of a brochure for the holster. Prior, unable to decipher there the name of the innovator himself, I also had failed to locate his fabricator who was a Mr. Fowler.

Muzzle tilted out of the holster pocket, this was the method of draw for the Sterling; while for the Berns-Martin 'Speed' holster the muzzle was intentionally trapped by a specially configured muzzle plug.

This is worth knowing because I've long had an expectation, from its construction and the location of Sterling in St. Joseph Missouri, that it was actually made by Wyeth Hardware there. Wyeth was well known for supplying its unmarked goods to 'hardware mail order retailers' who also sold guns and related.

And there he was, quite suddenly, in a genealogy research site: Mr. H.W. Fowler, "one of the best known designers in the leather workers industry" -- living in St. Joseph Missouri and working for Wyeth Hardware, once the largest saddlery in the world (employed 500):

He appears in ALL his Census records from 1910 onwards, working at Wyeth. The company itself ceased making its own leather products in 1958 and Fowler died 1968.

The exact era of the Sterling itself is less clear, given that Wyeth and Fowler were in the harness biz roughly 1900 until 1960. One can consider, though, that wireform forward-draw spring holsters appeared in the late 1930s and expect that the Sterling was by then and gunleather could not be sold to any but police and military during WW2 that was v late 1941 to mid-1945. The War gods were extra kind to gunleather people thereafter with the plant super of Heiser noting in a newspaper article that 'since the last war everyone wants to carry a pistol'.

Current expectations are that the holster is named for Ranger Captain Sterling of the same era. Naming gunleather after such a man is almost a cliche: Col. Askins, Capt. Hughes, Col. Cooper, etc.

The engraved Sterling holster of the brochure is very much in line with the Myres and Berns-Martin holsters of FBI agents including Jelly Bryce who made their names gunfighting the gangsters of the late 1930s; by which time all of which had either been killed or imprisoned (e.g., Machine Gun Kelly [prison], Ma Barker [killed], Matt Kimes [truck crash], etc.).

On the other hand, not to fall in love with that theory, the instant Sterling fits the target grips that S&W introduced in 1950, and very nicely, too. Though can we expect it is because of the popular grip adaptors shown off in the Sterling brochure?

Below is from Bob Arbanbright's collection and marked "Nudie's of Hollywood" on its backside. That's consistent with what Wyeth was: a maker of other people's goods, for their retailing. Enough have survived that are marked Wyeth that their special construction details can be matched with the many more that are not marked. Below the Nudie's holster was not made by his shop but, we now know, by Wyeth for Sterling for Nudie's. Notably it has the same rolled border pattern of all 'engraved' Sterlings and some Wyeths:

Fowler was a harness maker and the hand sewing around the trigger guard pocket shows off that unique skillset; as with Jack Martin of Berns-Martin for his own "Speed" Holster (the Sterling was also called the Speed Holster, as was the clamshell). Even a more contemporary maker, Don Hume was trained in leatherwork by a WW1 harness maker and his Jordan holsters are dominated by difficult hand sewing as by such a craftsman. The Sterling's handsewn trigger guard pocket:

The complex pattern 'round the outside, round the outside' (per the rapper Eminem) was "rolled" onto the leather in the tradition of saddlery, that used rollers at the edges of unlined areas such as saddle fenders. This one is distinctly Wyeth's.

Bucheimer-Clark's people likely were inspired by the Sterling in creating their Marshall holster in the 1960s while eliminating the complex trigger guard pocket; but adding a much-needed screw & post assembly that both limited, and clamped, the wireform. Inventor Earl Clark patented his but the patent itself shows that he didn't tell the USPTO about the Sterling; and the USPTO is concerned with 'published anywhere in the world' not just published patents as 'prior art' that can prevent a patent from being granted.

In both cases there were no cylinder recesses inside. The blackened leather at the cylinders is typical of the veg-tanned leather's reaction to steel laying against it for prolonged periods.

Notice that the outermost spring leg was inserted into a sleeve stitched to the holster as on the Sterling, while the backside's spring leg is between layers. This latter method was used in a pair of Sterlings (I assume, given the time frames) for Lone Wolf Gonzaullas' 1911 autos; holsters which are held by the Texas Rangers Museum though my own images are not from there, so are poor.

More images below of the recently acquired Sterling:

Above, the welted main seam is skived and spliced in the manner of a Brill by Rabensburg, 1930s/40s/50s.

Soon we will be able to thoroughly inspect yet another Wyeth though not a Sterling, with the same FOH acquiring this rotating crossdraw with Wyeth's rolled border. Perhaps it was originally a shoulder holster; other such holsters were, such as Ohlemeyer's and Gaylord's patented versions. That 'hood' is very much like a known Wyeth shoulder holster, one of which appears in the book "Packing Iron" that is about vintage and antique gunleather.

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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