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"I never heard of Red Nichols"

Updated: 2 days ago



I can think of three so-called 'professionals' who have posted words to the effect of, "I've been in the business since Moses was a pup and I never heard of Red Nichols". Good news, they apparently have heard of my co-author, John Witty -- who nevertheless is not in the business and is a collector instead. But not of me because they just DIDN'T LOOK; here is a partial from one page of the five pages of Google results today:

So in building this blog post for you all I feel as if I were an actress being asked to 'do a little spin for me' in an audition. But here goes. My Nichols Innovation company 1990-2000:


In Holstory the Book we two authors don't say much about ourselves. What's worth knowing about John Witty is that he is an Eagle Scout and has an enormous collection of vintage gunleather and the nous to go with it. We've never met, not even a phone call. Nor our editor Craig Smith, an ex-LEO whose knowledge and intellect kept the book accurate.


(In response to this blog post, one of my critics already has alleged that I was merely JB's lapdog. Maybe. But I worked for JB only my first 17 years of being a professional designer. And afterwards, for double that time, as a designer/maker 33 more years. Arguably I'm still not really 'retired' as a gunleather contributor. I'm The Holstorian :-)


For now, 'who is Red Nichols'? Some excerpts:

Above a cover story about a Bohlin-type silver buscadero set.

I agree, above is a dorky looking gunleather designer. The Dr. Sheldon Cooper of industry.

Turns out the Judge holster shown above was my first patent. Lose a special hand tool I invented to twist the ends of the two springs into a clip and 'no can do'!

That press shown at top was capable of incredible pressure; invented by my tame t&d maker.

Above the Buffalo Bill set was too large for Paul Newman, and heavy. A foam pad was used.

Above from JB's "Blue Steel & Gunleather" of which I wrote a large portion. Stands up to a thorough reading better than one would expect in the 21st century.

Above, Mas Ayoob says my Autodraw save a fellow copper's life. The Bucheimer-Clark he mentions was a copy of one of my prototypes, carelessly shown at a trade show!


Yup, it's true that I was 'just a worker' at Bianchi Holster, beginning 1970. I was a huge gunleather fan after reading Gaylord's 1960 book in a local library after my folks moved the family back to America from the London of the Beatles (John, Yoko and Ringo were our nearby neighbors!) and James Bond, 1966 Oakland CA. That period caused me to become a huge Bianchi Holster fan while I was studying to be an LEO (2 years, didn't stay to graduate because I was entirely unsuited to being one; as proven by the same years as a uniformed security guard). I started creating my own holsters that were inspired by Theodore's new publicity and I used to write to John Bianchi with questions about leather working.


JB always replied with a handwritten note. How as I to know that (a) he compulsively answered all letters and (b) they were handwritten because they weren't worth having his secretary type them! Things I learned after I asked if I could work for him. "Yes, if you're not eligible for the draft", which I was but had a student deferment. My number was even called in '70! But the draft ended anyway in Jan '73. Two dollars an hour, woo-hoo! Chart below was for those born after 1950 (my birth year) so isn't the one that applied to me, which is 'somewhere' but this one was handy). No number above 200 was called so this person was not eligible to be drafted but mine was second-last number called! We were coming back in body bags and all of us designing in the '60s and '70s were eligible:


I don't know what he saw in me, 20 years old, in 1970. I do know that both Bruce Nelson and Gordon Davis had left his company by that time, and that my interview portfolio included a hand-made Hoyt copy including tempered spring and cylinder recesses without ever owning a Hoyt myself. Clearly he felt the need for a 'talented' (my word) gopher to build his prototypes of new designs. My first: The 'clip grip' that I invented because I couldn't afford an Anderson; inspired by the knowledge that Andy's often had a rubber band added to its central friction strap (mine uses a rubber washer between the mags, which expands by tightening the central screw). And I wouldn't copy Andy's.


In fact I created all his new designs from 1971 onwards. I worked in a factory of about 30 people which was a lot for 1970 (300 men and women by 1990) and used to stay behind after my production-line day to watch the 'engineer' then, John Michler, work away in the 'specials' department where very small order batches were made -- and all the prototypes. Then this was the first of the spring-loaded 9R shoulder holsters aka 'the baby 27'. Below, though, is the much-improved version that I created from the ashes of the original when it wouldn't reliably retain the revolver; maybe my first patent, age 25? Called the 9R-2:

Or maybe my first patent was this one below, the 2800 aka 'the judge', same age?


Michler got careless in his relationship with Bianchi Holster and I was nominated to replace him. 'Eager beaver' I guess you would say. I sure didn't want to go home; I was obsessed with gunleather and it was 100 degrees F in a heavily smog-laden Monrovia, and the wife and I had a very small child but no air con. The shop only worked until 2:30 because of the oppressive heat and smog.


JB and I created the Askins Avenger to compete with the patented Baker pancake holster; takes up less space on the belt line. Below:


Then JB shifted the operation further south into a little town called Temecula in Riverside county. One traffic light. The new factory had air con and the county had no smog! I was happy to go home in my Mustangs to the family in cooler, smog-free Fallbrook where all the senior (!) Bianchi people lived especially JB and his wife Donna. Nice lady, then; but their son had an awful accident in '76 and died in '78, and she wasn't ever nice again.

I sculpted the special grips that Bianchi had made by Pachmayr. Fit my hand perfectly! The concept was JB's of course, inspired by the metal shroud for Colt's revolvers. Originally in wood as a project for his son John Richard to make a business of, but they were too fragile.


 

Ok. So in the beginning I created gunleather for Bianchi Holster such as this below. It's not a complete review, that w/b silly as being too numerous. How many spins can I make for the casting directors before I get dizzy and fall down?

Above the X-2000 / X-2100 had a very different spring from any before it. Ultimately it became one of Dirty Harry's holsters :-).

The 'Autodraw' above was a forward draw 'security holster' that received a rave review from Mas Ayoob but took seven years to perfect but was not the equal of Bill Rogers' approach that was in Kydex. The spring inside is a pair of thin, tempered steel sheets; skeletonized.

Above the Pistol Pocket that was an IWB and its styling and construction inspired not by the Western school as all prior Bianchi holsters were, but by the Eastern school. Patented adjustable angle couldn't change position unintentionally.

I worked out a way to honor Roy Baker's patent with the above version of the pancake which itself had transformed how pistols were carried (his patent was badly written by his patent attorney).

The pistolero above was obviously inspired by the work of Andy Anderson but it is not a copy and had its own patents including its 'combat keepers (not shown here).

Above looks like nothing more than a common paddle holster. But it IS more: inside both the holster body and the paddle are asymmetrical spring steel plates, hardened before insertion to create a spring clamp to keep the holstered revolver on the body when pulling the pistol. The suede cover added friction resistance to the clamping action.

Above the 209 inverted shoulder holster is the only elasticized, inverted design that was secure -- and the only commercially successful ANGLED inverted holster that didn't require a safety strap. A veg leather version was called the 208. Buy a vintage one today and it will still retain the revolver during the 'snap test'; no others of the elastic type can do this.

Above the CD series crossdraws were not my concept (it's a chopped X-15) but I did all the prototyping for JB's products. Below the still-popular Cyclone crossdraw IS my creation and was promptly copied by Galco; the Cyclone is still featured on holster forums:

The company worked closely with John Wayne's sons at BatJac Productions to create the famed commemoratives. JB was a real name-dropper and curried favor with every celeb he could catch; some of which lived nearby (Marty Milner for example).



Then I became the organizer for the Bianchi Cup when Ray Chapman proposed to JB in '78 that he sponsor a pistol tournament (to promote his new shooting Academy in MO). Doesn't sound like much but we invented professional pistol shooting! I'm little-mentioned in any press about the event that usually begins with, 'Back in 1979 John Bianchi and Ray Chapman . . ." and that's quite OK; or about my being charged with persuading NRA to adopt the event and the course of fire as its new Practical Shooting sport -- because the event was killing JB financially -- which I did. As was his Frontier Museum started at the same time, for which I claim no association except for making some of the many fakes in its gunleather displays. Gene Autry saved his ass by buying JB's collection.

Author Greg Moats (above and below) tells the story better than any has before or since, recently in his review of Holstory the Book:

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JB surrendered to an offer to sell his holster company in 1987 -- by which time the factory employed 300 -- and I can't blame him; though I'll admit I did resent him thinking I was for sale with it and so I left instead. But there was not a lot of work for an unemployed gunleather designer! As both Nelson and Davis had already discovered. Most Bianchi 'exes' went over to Safariland, our biggest competitor (Michler, for example) but I wasn't disloyal enough; didn't even try. One of Michler's designs for Safariland, at right below has a familiar 'Bianchi' look:


Went to business school and graduated with honors. The degree from Pepperdine's school of business didn't help much with employment but my research project exposed a niche market for me: independent designer for the mid-sized players who couldn't justify having their own staffer for same. I pitched the idea for what I eventually called Nichols Innovation at the January 1990 SHOT show, with appointments made in advance and was truly surprised at the high uptake. Here's a list of the companies I ultimately developed new products or strategies for (at Bianchi I was not only chief of design but later, chief of marketing; and my degree was in business strategy) over a decade 1990-2000:

And a listing of my published magazine appearances, both before and after I left Bianchi:

While at Bianchi Holster, then during Nichols Innovation's ten year run until 2000, I earned 50 patents. Here's a list of them, in which the 'et al' means I was not the only inventor listed. JB was pretty good about crediting us inventors; better than, say, Rich Gallagher or Paris Theodore who took all the credit for themselves.


Here are some of the results of the Nichols Innovation years; you'll recognize some of them:

The above was for Galco, and was created to compete with the Bianchi Avenger but it was not a copyl Many unique features including one you'd have to be an expert to spot: the sight rails are stitched from the OUTSIDE of the holster even though one cannot see them to do so . . ..

Above, a custom set for exhibition shooter Joe Bowman. The holsters are on limited-range swivels made of Delrin. I let him pay for the silver. Recently sold from Joe's estate.

Above, for Ernie Hill is the result of many patents of mine: the 'spine', the 'lock', and the belt hanger that didn't require the belt to be unbuckled to add the holster or remove it.

Above my injection molded paddle, done a shoe string. Still used by several makers today including Aker and Hellweg. The holster itself is not made of leather! Instead a laminate that was superior to Safarilaminate. And the holster itself is a body suspended inside a carrier; same body was used in different carriers but not meant to be interchanged by the buyers. Below, the 'female' paddle created for Gene DeSantis and patented:

The female paddle was created to deal with the hourglass figure, which itself forces a man's holster into her ribcage; not only uncomfortable then but conceals and draws poorly. Mine doesn't! Notice she is not wearing a belt:


Above the Aker 'flatsider' (my name) series that Kamuran told me 'put him on the map' as a serious gunleather maker. His tenure at Aker Leather outlasted JB's at Bianchi!

This one for DeSantis you'll recognize better as having been copied, line for line, by Rick Gallagher at Galco. The image doesn't show the newspaper's date but other images do, and long before Galco's version that was copied to fill Federal contracts such as the FBI.


By the end of 1999 things got a bit wobbly, business-wise. For those of you who aren't designers I'll mention that after a novel design is created it all looks so easy and obvious to the owners of gunleather companies, and I also was filling up their product lines. I was becoming a third wheel and this was obvious when the lot of them started to be 'slow pay'.

Above, for Hellweg International. Not a copy of the Safariland it was designed to compete with. And below, another such using trigger guard lock set supplied by Gould & Goodrich:


The writing was on the wall for the future of Nichols Innovation, and Safariland had been sold, and I had a reasonably good relationship with a gunleather maker in Australia known as Hellweg International. I saw an opportunity for them to give Safariland a run for their money in the Kydex department (in their own country especially!) because I worked extensively with the material during the decade of Nichols Innovation. Got pretty good at it, too. Albert Hellweg and I worked out some designs and I got him up to speed on the technology -- true to my word, after a personal walk-through of the Safariland factory with Neale Perkins I did not ever reveal how his presses worked.


The venture with Hellweg was a bad idea; the Hellweg family had its own problems but also had a major contract to provide body armor for the East Timor conflict that might not have been very profitable after the materials expense but it sure created the cash flow). The project collapsed with a lot of help from Safariland who accused us of patent infringement, but we weren't stupid (about that anyway) and had developed products that honored their patents and did not infringe. Patents, though are all about muscle, and Hellweg not only didn't have much muscle but they were timid, to boot, in the face of Safariland's notoriety.

Also a synthetic laminate, including the suede on the outside of the polymer, coextruded into single sheets. Cut, sanded, stitched just like leather; molded with heat like Kydex. This one for DeSantis, later dubbed the Cozy Partner in leather.


I'm not sorry it failed though! Australia has the most beautiful women in the world except perhaps Ukraine and when I married a shapely Aussie girl I stayed in Australia. Shifted States here and married a different Aussie girl -- this is relevant because 2000 to 2010 I wasn't able to work with handguns, real or 'dummy'. Even the gun molds required pistol licenses which then had their own oppressive conditions. So instead I got a job with the largest retailer in Australia that was modelled after Home Depot (they said) and, still obsessed with gunleather, branched out into the leather collectibles of the 1950s that were for 'junior cowboys and cowgirls': capgun holster sets. That led to restoring the old ones, then to replicating them. Here are a few:

Above, all-new from original patterns using replated 1950s hardware; below a restoration using original parts and replated 1950s hardware. All those RRs are Roy Rogers, of course. Every rivet, every concho, every spot, every buckle.


So now being in Queensland where the gun molds were not controlled as if they were real guns, I decided to see if there was a market for gunleather under my own name. I had not ever been a maker, only a designer/maker (can't design 'em if you're not also good at making 'em). Literally millions of gunleather items had passed through my hands during my time at Bianchi Holster as chief of quality assurance (100 percent inspection standard) that included the initial 300,000 M12 holster for the U.S. Armed Forces)(my name is on all its patents, and I was the project's manager working directly with Rock Island). Its first appearance on screen was as the UM-84 version worn by Arnie's character in Commando:

My first venture as a maker vs as a designer/maker. 2010:


Which then put me on gunleather forums because I wanted to see what had happened to the state of the art. I saw some handsome progress -- then encountered the first of the naysayers, Tony Kanaley at Sparks (since then kicked out of Sparks after he libeled me and I sued all of them. He stopped the defamation, too!


Tony had no more training and education in gunleather than Milt had, and Milt had been only a sewing machine operator at Pioneer Tent & Awning until '72! I discovered that somehow Kanaley had succeeded in crowning Milt as 'the King of Gunleather' -- but as Elmer Keith once said, "hell, I was there" and I knew better.


That led to more "I never heard of you", and lately from an author of LEO related books named Richard Rosenthal. It's understandable that they never heard of me -- they never looked! A Google search for 'Red Nichols holsters' turns up five pages minimum on the facts page, and a lengthy set of clickable images on the Google image page for same:


Ditto if one searches Google for 'holstory' which is a made-up word; or Berns-Martin that is a trademark I acquired (the Berns-Martin Australia range, made always from horsehide which I had never worked with before, was my final entry) after Red Nichols Holsters which I did as a joint venture with the founder of High Noon Holsters, Michael Punzone. He died, I think a suicide because it was sudden, unexpected, unexplained, and his name was dropped by his family from the company's website.


Some of the Red Nichols Holsters line, below, entirely hand-molded because I had/have no presses (Bianchi and even Sparks, Galco, Aker use a padded press first):

The leather trim is ostrich leg, VERY tough and VERY handsome. The slots, which I originally created to return stability to the thin panels on Shooting Systems holsters, are used by no other (because some makers are on record as saying they don't understand them):


And some of the Berns-Martin Australia gunleather, which I say are the best I've ever made in in terms of engineering (I'm not an engineer but rather an industrial designer). Workmanship may be imperfect, but materials and performance -- outstanding.


Add in my research about the players, which is voluminous, and understandably I didn't toot my own horn in Holstory the Book because of what others accomplished since 1905:


Some have noticed that their favorite player was not included in Holstory. We chose a simple criterion: if the player INNOVATED, they were included unless we simply couldn't find any info about them in the record. If they COPIED then they were omitted. Innovation meant they had advanced the state of the art, copying meant they didn't. So, Alessi closely copied Seventrees, Galco got an honorable mention after copying Bianchi because they're big-ish, J.M.B. really should've been left out because it was the Clark family that did the innovating for Clark and then for Bucheimer-Clark; but despite making very poor excuses for gunleather nevertheless Richard Bucheimer did invent the thumbsnap (with JMB designer Al Kippen). Below is Alessi's direct copy of Seventrees' UNS iwb scabbard:

Below, the original for Seventrees that likely was created by Bob Angell for Paris' venture:


I retired from gunleather design-and-build on my 70th birthday 2020 because I finally had tired of it after a 50 solid years. I was aided in that decision by my distance from the only worthwhile market in the world, America; no access to real pistols so I had to rely on a series of American armourers to ensure my holsters didn't interfere with any pistol's controls (a must, but no maker you know of does this today); and because I didn't build for the striker pistols after I (finally) worked out -- unlike other makers who still don't acknowledge this -- that the striker actions can't be 'made safe' with a holster in the same way a hammer-fired pistol can be; auto and revolver.


But I had lost interest in solving the same old problem (innovate and keep 'em safe) that current makers had overcome by being willing to make the exact same holsters, the exact same way, they had been doing for a half century! Those poor slobs at Sparks and at Lawman, too, year after year; I was unwilling.

The Bianchi X-2100 supplanted the early use of the Bucheimer-Clark (not Lawman) shoulder holster, in the last Dirty Harry movie to show his shoulder holster; which was Sudden Impact:


Did some other stuff, too. Lessee, created the Bianchi Model 13 shoulder holster system, designed and built a pair of holsters for Skeeter Skelton, invented the Bianchi Model 350 holster, ditto the Ruger Practical Holster and the Interarms Luger holster it was based on, the Chapman holster over two days with Ray himself, the Buffalo Bill holster set for Paul Newman's film of the same name, an ankle holster used on the actress' thigh for a film called Miss Congeniality, made a holster for John Wayne, friend John Witty and I produced a book about gunleather called "Holstory" that was reviewed by the likes of Mas Ayoob

















Oh yeah, invented a mass production sight protector still used by companies today. A simple way to install the sight rails of Berns-Martin origin.

They just didn't LOOK before opening their big mouths. Their environment -- and yours -- is littered with my seminal designs INCLUDING ALL THE COPIES.

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