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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Life in the Sloan lane

Hank Sloan, FBI, was a really big deal in his time. And he is remembered by holstorians for his holster that he invented, licensed to J.M. Bucheimer, and the company named explicitly for him. None of the 'BN' in the model name as Sparks did for Nelson; JMB plastered Sloan's name all over the holster itself and its advertising, too.


Sloan in 1930 with the Texas Highway Patrol, which merged with the Texas Rangers in 1935 to be called the Department of Public Safety.


It was a post on my friend John Witty's holster forum on Smith-wessonforum.com , that inspired me to create this blog post. There a member posted an image of what is the first of the production Sloans (whether he knows it or not) because it has the equivalent of 'pat pend' stamped on its backside.


The earliest Sloan mark is the standard 'Bucheimer Made' mark with a version of the 'pat pend' notice below it. No points for working out what 'HS' means :-).


The Sloan holster was explicitly created to create retention AND fit multiple frame sizes AND be adjustable to allow for renewing the retention. Bill Rogers' claim to fame is having lost his revolver out of a Sloan that was issued to him; so rather than tightening his holster or switching to a thumbsnap holster, he made his own out of plastic. Big question in my mind, is why JMB didn't themselves add the thumbsnap to it -- hell, JMB INVENTED the thumbsnap -- and keep it in their line. But introduced mid-'60s the Sloan holster was gone by the early '70s.


The next Sloan mark is handsome and includes a 'fitment' number. The size chart is at the end of this blog post.


Which then makes us suspect that the Sloan device, which is an adjustable welt, was for speed unencumbered by straps. Jelly Bryce is well known for his strapless Myres Threepersons being a very sloppy fit; he was far more concerned with speed and had plenty of notches to show where his priorities were then.


Above it's 1945 and a Life magazine spread. D.A. Bryce is not yet 'Jelly' but in the very next article about him -- a newspaper article about the Life article -- the Jelly name is first used.


When Don Hume admitted in court filings that his Jordan holster was designed for speed not security, it was all over for him in a products liability suit (I was his expert witness; it never went to trial. Didn't help that Hume's insurance lawyer explicitly told me she wanted to screw the plaintiff's lawyer. Don't ever forget that lawyers are officers of the court and they take sides in opposition to their clients interests, and in concert with the opposing legal team. Been there, done that, in Safariland v Hellweg).


In a JMB model number, 'B' surprisingly is not for 'Bucheimer' but instead is for 'black'. This 'b' logo first appeared about 1960 in other JMB gunleather so perhaps I have their order of appearance reversed here.


Hank Sloan lived 1907 to 1975 and was the nephew of well-known Texas Ranger captain Tom Hickman; who appears in our book Holstory wearing his pair of late 1920s Threepersons holsters by Sam Myres. It was in 1935 that Hickman was out at the Rangers, and Sloan was in at FBI: he joined that year, the FBI took on its new organization from having been the DOI. And in 1942 Sloan became ASAC of firearms; then ASAC of all of Quantico in 1954.


We can date this image very precisely because we know who that is with him. Captain Hickman of Ranger Force is posing for a pic with the Commissioner of Police in Chicago who was named Hughes; and he served only end of 1927 to mid-1928. Note his Threepersons.


And here the 'S' is for the added strap. Does Rogers get credit for JMB adding this, after losing his revolver from his own Sloan? A simple strap like this can be retrofitted to holsters already in the field, so its attraction over an integrated thumbsnap is understandable from JMB's perspective. And new owner Tandy's.


He sent a letter to his minders at FBI about inventing his holster on their dime and promised them no royalties would be paid him for their purchases (unlike Bill Rogers who left the agency, then tried to sell his holster to them that he had developed on their dime). That was '64 for Sloan, his patent issued in '66, and he retired in '71; died in '75. That last little bit kept him from being able to pursue Milt Sparks' infringement of his patent with gun writer Elmer Keith; and Sloan's patent wasn't assigned to JMB so they couldn't do it for him (called 'lack of standing'). I've seen some of the royalty reports from JMB to Sloan and the monies could have been an impetus to retire soon after; but these were not big dollar amounts.



My coauthor Witty has several pieces of correspondence between Sloan and the famed Evaluators Ltd, regarding the evolving K frame .357 Magnum. The first of these actually was a Combat Masterpiece in .357 that was given to Sloan himself; but S&W would not undertake to build more and by the end of that very year introduced the Combat Magnum that we know today. What's the diff? The bull barrel of the M12, and the underlug of the M28 is what I can see between the two revolvers. Most important was the new hardening process that one of these letters touts to Hank, which allowed the smaller revolver to handle the high pressures of the Magnum over the Special. All credit for the Magnum then went to Bill Jordan, who we believe used his own first example made late 1965 to accidentally kill another agent in a nearby office; and so Jordan is not mentioned in any of his agency's website information today despite his holster and his Magnum and his book (while today's BATFE has a page devoted to Tom Threepersons and his holster and his guns, as a former Treasury agent).


I said 'not big bucks' but in today's gold prices vs. those of 1967 when gold was just U$35/oz -- and about to be floated -- that reached U$2,000/oz just last year, it was U$27,000 in buying power for him. One could buy a new car with the amount, then ($500) and now ($27,000).


Much has been made of the so-called 'improvements' that Keith and Sparks made to the Sloan; but it already had all the features touted. Instead what they did was fit the Sloan invention into a Gaylord design that Keith liked; both already were equipped with hammer guards but the Gaylord had an open muzzle that made the holster shorter. The Sloan itself is based on the Heiser 459 introduced in 1950; the man of the hour to do the pattern work was the same man for both designs: Al Kippen who designed the 459 while at Heiser and was at JMB when he created the Sloan in their shop.


This Heiser 459 bears the Evaluator's Ltd. mark alongside Heiser's. I expect that Flora Van Orden of Evaluators urged them to create it for her new company that took its first orders for S&W revolvers in Sep of 1949. The ink wasn't even dry on her husband's retirement from the Army! One can see the resemblance between the Heiser and the Sloan.


The Sloan is quite collectible and can generally be considered a late ''60s production era item; it appears with many marks, of which only one that I call a 'one line Bucheimer' mark is in question -- and surely it is early '70s. But why?! Perhaps JMB's new owner, Tandy Corp, didn't want to pay royalties for the use of the Sloan name, nor the patent itself; their agreement had an 'out' if they weren't selling in sufficient numbers (don't do this, gunleather inventors; your licensee loses the incentive to MAKE the design a commercial success. They also gain the incentive to infringe on your patent when the license expires -- and when Gould & Goodrich did this to me with one of my own inventions, I sued in Federal Court and won, then retired to Australia on what were even bigger numbers in AUD).


Above the patent, and below, well, think of it as a fitment chart. Notice that the drawings of the patent are the drawings of the ad.


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