• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Huh. The Berns-Martin "Lightning" shoulder holster

I do hate it when we discover that the information has been staring us in the face all along, such as the date the famous Berns-Martin Lightnin' inverted shoulder holster was invented!

For example, here is an early catalog of the company's that we can be certain preceded the 1953, 1956, 1963 and 1966 issues because the latter catalogs are always found with dated price lists; and there is more in the latter catalogs.

OK. So for some reason I expected that it was 1940s because, well, it's not like the 1950s catalogs. And there is less in it. Then I notice that the Lightning has a fitment for the Chiefs Special. See the problem?

Yes, the problem with my dating is that the Chiefs Special was introduced in 1950! And I notice that the Centennial that was introduced in 1952 is not mentioned which suggests the brochure is 1950 when Jack Martin advised Elmer Keith he had reopened after WWII.

We also know when the Lightning was invented, because we have recently discovered (bear in mind that 'discovered' always means that someone else knew first but they've only just told us about it) letter by Jack Martin that is dated 1934. And in it he speaks of perfecting his 'upside down' shoulder holster that is "lightning quick". Hence the name, I'd say.

The letter mentions the challenge of building holsters while in NYC and it turns out that Martin is stationed there still, in late 1935 and by late 1936 has returned to Calhoun City in time for his father's death and funeral. A bit of guesstimating from all these facts and testing the notion that Jack increased his prices systematically from day one to day end (he died in 1968 and took Berns-Martin with him despite there being a branch operation in Elberton GA), and this brochure is his first and from 1936:

I'm missing one page that my friend John Witty has, and on it is not the Lightnin shoulder holster but the Range holster that was replaced in 1963 by the Raider that can be mass-produced (ask JB, he copied it exactly). The original is constructed in the fashion of a shotgun case: shaped into a tube and hand sewn at the seams and that was not a challenge for the harness maker that Jack Martin was:

Witty takes his images with all holsters at an angle so it's easy to miss that this Berns-Martin carries with a straight, vertical drop. Whereas its replacement, and JB's copy, carry at the then 'modern' angle created for the Texas Rangers' Brills (1912 baby!) and popularized by S.D. Myres FBI holsters. And I understand it took Evaluator's babe-in-chief, Mrs. Van Orden who was called 'Beanie' to get it done in 1963!

Beanie in WWII:

I understand that the General (ret'd) left her and took another wife at the peak of Evaluators Ltd.' success; nevertheless at Beanie's death she is noted as a widow though she herself did not remarry. All in one's point of view, eh?

The Lightnin' holster evolved in major ways. The first of them looked like this one (and my lead photo):

Notice there that the harness is sewn into the holster, and that both are made of the soft harness leather that their brochure claims is horsehide (and therefore is of the chrome-tanned garment type used on motorcycle jackets then, not the veg leather used for holsters since Chic Gaylord's time). Then the harness was separated and the tabs of the holster shortened (second image below)

The holster then change again to the one we know best today, and the harness to cloth webbing that needs the holster buckles to make its own holes into (but the adjustments then become infinite):

That one is a Triple Draw: that version could be worn on belt or harness (notice the belt slots) while the Lightnin' had no belt slits. It was so-called because the Triple Draw could be worn under the arm or as a strong draw or cross draw (the latter also inverted) on the belt. Jack Martin was a big fan of inverted carry and is known for his knife sheath that was an inverted shoulder carry for the Sykes-Fairbairn fighting knife of early WWII in the Orient:

There were odd little variants of the Lightnin' for various customers and various requirements. Floral:

Sweat shield and a safety strap:


320 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All