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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

I know what you did last summer

Updated: 3 days ago

As for the film of that name, I didn't even get through the opening scenes! But my story is not scary at all. Kinda fun, instead.


Below, the second Summer Special:



Above, the first Summer Special -- in 1925!


It's long been a point of contention that, of the two holster designers, Seventrees could have heard of Bruce Nelson's work rather than the other way around, in 1967. The two had products that were styled and built alike. Not every detail by any means; but in overall design and construction the Nelson Summer Special and the Seventrees Super Speed Scabbard are very, very, very similar. Both are Eastern School -- no welt, for example -- where Seventrees was located quite nearby to Chic Gaylord's shop; and NOT Western school where Nelson was located as a Bianchi Holster employee in that year.


This one above is a Seventrees 'IWB'; it was Paris who first used the acronym for these that is the standard today. Seventrees also was using the Pull-the-Dot snaps for this before we at Bianchi had discovered them in 1970 to use on the Model 27, and Nelson followed.


I've long argued that Paris Theodore had no mechanism to hear about Bruce on the other side of the country. Paris was a genuine player in NYC and Bruce was just some chap who worked for John Bianchi in L.A.



My research now gives me a better-informed opinion on that subject, because I've found the time and players who connect the two men. And this finding also leaves room for Nelson's fanboys to believe what they want to believe vs. my own opinion.



Here we go. In 1965 (above) a well-known gun writer of the era, Bob Zwirz, wrote an article about Chic Gaylord who had been in the biz for a decade by then. And in that article, Bob mentions that Chic's right hand man is a man named Bob Angell.


Since that time Angell has received very little attention in the legends of holstory, with all that going to either Chic or Paris:



And that's only the beginning of the connection: Angell left Gaylord after that 1965 article to work with . . . Paris at Seventrees for its 1966 founding. This is a big deal because it turns out that it was Angell who designed BOTH entrepreneurs' gunleather; and it's my view that it was 1966/1967 that the crossover occurred because that's Angell's first mention in a series of communiques between writer Mason Williams and Steve King, who is Paris' right hand man (they went to school together and of all the players, the only one still living).



It is still only the beginning. The next thing that happens is that Bob Zwirz then writes two articles about Paris and Seventrees that appear in early 1968. And despite the official claim that Seventrees was founded in '66, nevertheless all of industry was fooled into thinking that Seventrees already was up and running at the time of the '68 articles. Well, they were written in '67, weren't they? To make publication in early '68; every industry insider knows that.


Above, Paris is adjusting a shoulder holster system on author Bob Zwirz. The harness itself is now in my friend John Witty's collection along with the revolver bits attached to it vs. the auto's shown here.


Zwirz, it turns out, is referred to as an officer of Seventrees in these communiques. You know who else Mason Williams refers to as an officer? Jeff Cooper. And THAT's the nexus of Seventrees and CLL (Nelson's 'Combat Leather Ltd.): Cooper, and Zwirz.


From a 1969 Cooper article; notice Donihoo and his holster by Seventrees.


It's clear from the record as outlined on today's BNCL website, that Nelson's very foundation is built on his being with Cooper at his leatherslaps (started 1956) beginning when Bruce was age 16. When he turns 18 he goes to university, and also to work for John Bianchi. Bruce was b. in 1948 so at this age it is 1966. What else? JB is just now founding Bianchi Holster in '66 after losing Safari Ltd that operated only for 1964, to Neale Perkins; who turns that corporation into the Safariland gunleather company that we holstorians know today (though today's company makes only injection molded plastic holsters; it is their subsidiary brand Bianchi that makes gunleather, and none too well, either).


Cooper's relationship with Bianchi Holster was fraught with resentment. By the 1970s the two men simply didn't speak and I was their go-between.


Follow me on this. A 1967 letter from a series of them between Williams and Seventrees' management that begins in 1966, takes exception to the holsters Mason's been sent by Paris. Too soft, not detail-molded properly, the finish needs waxing, the maker's mark is a no-go (it's the palm tree without the Seventrees name), etc. He REALLY doesn't like the Donihoo holster as carrying too low. And he claims the holsters are so soft that he can roll each holster up like a rag.


The first appearance of the thumbsnap system for Bianchi was in his '66 catalog as Bianchi Holster. Prior it was the the pull-through system that both Chic and Paris used.


Let's give him the benefit of the doubt about his thinking that the thumbsnap doesn't open properly with his ELBOW; in those times the thumbsnap was brand new. Only Gaylord and Bianchi had twigged yet; oh, and J.M. Bucheimer, whose people had invented it (!).


One of the 1968 articles by Zwirz displayed the first set of Seventrees holsters.


From this we realize that all the holsters Mason is handling are only prototypes, and they are the very holsters that next appear in Zwirz' early 1968 articles. Paris is not in production and his catalog, which Williams creates and produces, does not appear until late 1969 (the price list is dated, and there is only the one catalog and price list).


There is only one Seventrees catalog, and only one price list: 01 Oct 1969.


"Please do not contact Cooper yet", implores Williams. "I also want to handle all the other officers the same way": Cooper is an officer of Seventrees. And Williams wants Zwirz and himself to approve all of Paris' prototypes before a model becomes standard! Of course as the designer, Bob Angell is expected to be at meetings on same and is mentioned in this same letter:

NOW it's easy to imagine these prototypes of Angell's for Seventrees ending up in Cooper's hands as early as 1966 when Paris has fired up his new venture with Angell on board as designer. And the distinctive design and construction of a Seventrees is apparent in the holsters that are called out in the 1965 article about Chic as being Angell's. "Just copy Bob Angell's holster", says Williams in his complaint letter, in response to the design we know of today as a Donihoo.


The Donihoo design as executed by Seventrees. This one is from Paris' heir-apparent Ken Null. Not enough emphasis is placed on Seventrees holsters being made from horsehide as were Chic's; it's called 'the kydex of leather' because once dried, it is thin and stiff.


King's reply letter even calls it a Donihoo, and it is Seventrees that makes Donihoo's own holsters for his resale. And who touts them in his articles? Jeff Cooper. Followed by Skeeter Skelton with Seventrees as an unlikely inclusion in a 'roundup' of gunleather; as does Williams in an article about gunleather for scoped pistols (?). Seventrees' officers are Paris, Steve, Cooper, Zwirz, likely Skeeter, Williams: Williams has recruited his gunwriter friends who later include George Nonte who writes often about the ASP -- because it is he who builds the pistols for Paris! It's all very incestuous.


Every enthusiast knows what an ASP looks like (above). The rarest is the 10mm :-).


So, did Paris Theodore copy the designs of a youngster in California, or was it he other way 'round? When we add Bob Angell to the equation, we have to say that he was first at the trough as being Gaylord's designer at least by '65; and Bruce is in print stating "in 1967 I designed the Summer Special". Or did Angell copy Bruce . . . which seem mighty unlikely because the construction is entirely Gaylord where Angell was, and nothing like Bianchi's where Nelson was.


Who so-named it the Summer Special? Why, Jeff Cooper upon receiving his example!


"The Force is strong in this one". The Nelson Combat for Bianchi in 1969 (above). It was replaced by a Bianchi-style design the following year; that is, made in the Western School instead of the Eastern School of Gaylord and Seventrees.

P.S. I'll wind this up by SETTLING Bruce's other claim, that he created the first 'winged' crossdraw holster in '67. That's simply not true. I won't call it a lie because at that time he was very young and perhaps didn't really know his holstory. Yet the inventor of the winged crossdraw (Bruce calls his a double loop arrangement, and his holster, too, is ONLY suited to crossdraw) was the well-known E.E. Clark. And the holster even appeared on television in Bruce's youth. Here it is, since it's appearance in Clark's lineup in 1936:



And Bruce's crossdraw in '80; both the Clark and the Nelson are for the 1911:



The Clark holster at its introduction in a 1936 brochure by Pachmayr:



And Bruce with his in '80:



And here's its backside. Two loops: one is the slotted wing, the other a narrow strap centred on the backside of the holster pocket, designed to pull the grip into the body. The literature for both Clark and Nelson emphasized this purpose for their crossdraws:



Look familiar? Bruce's crossdraw is below; and now you can see that the innovation was never original to Bruce:



Which then makes his claim thereafter, and Sparks', that all slotted holsters are copies of Nelson's. Nelson's was a copy itself! And it was Bianchi Holster that made the concept work as what Cooper called a 'strong side' draw instead, because Bruce himself pointed out that his couldn't work that way; the gun butt stuck out and 'outed' him as an undercover narc.

PPS: The first Summer Special -- it's 'forward of hip' and all -- in 1925:



And Bruce's from 1980:



The author of the article in American Rifleman, even makes a point about clearing the base of the trigger guard for a full grip:



Bruce's own commentary, as if he had invented the concept:



The 1925 holster was made from an M1916 G.I. holster, and the stud for the flap replaced with a hook:



The reinforced mouth of leather and steel that is not on the modified G.I. holster above, was taken by Bruce from the 1936 Clark holsters shown earlier:



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