• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Did your Brill arrive early or late?

Updated: Nov 20

The famous A.W. Brill holsters were made in two main eras, with a little 'intro' period at the outset. We call that one the 'earliest' period followed by the 'early' and 'late' periods. Genuine Brills were not made past the end of that late period that ended 1961.

The era included the holster attributed to Butch Cassidy; it and this one have all same the construction hallmarks of the main 'early' period but -- the famous mark is not on the leather cuff that's going 'round the holster pocket. The carving pattern is quite distinct from the late versions so found only on 'earlies'.

The 'early' Brills, as John and I have taken the liberty of labeling them, are obviously different from the 'late' Brills, when one knows what one is looking at. Brills themselves were not made by either August Brill nor by his son Arno Brill; the former was a businessman and his son was a salesman. Instead they were made by saddlers from very different eras themselves. More in a minute on that. Here's an early Brill with the A.W. Brill mark on its cuff:

These are notable for having only a single welt in the main seam; which itself is notable because NO other holsters had welt save for the Brill's predecessor by King Ranch. They began to be made in 1912 with the earlier KR at left:

They (early Brills) are also notable for having an obviously wider cuff than the later ones, which you'll see in this comparison pic with the late at left, an early at right:

And . . . they were stitched very differently. An early Brill as made by Charles Kluge of the Kluge Bros Saddlery after August Brill bought them in 1912, looks like the one at right on the front; and the sewing you're looking for is the little 'return' stitch at the top of the welt that is at right angles to the main seam

The main seam is also quite straight on all early models including the DA revolvers, the SAA revolvers, and even the 1911 fitments. They were made until 1932.

On the backside is another very large difference that, again, is obvious when you're looking for it: the hand stitching that's showing there where the ends of the cuff, on the other side, have been attached.

The stitch line at right is ALWAYS a single, straight line as if it were machine sewn; which it was not. The line at left in this image, and always on the edge of the fender nearest the main fold of the holster pocket, is another straight line stitch but much larger stitches and with another "L" at each end. These "L"s run off the cuff on the other side and both are done that way as a sort of reinforcement.

Now here is the front side of a late Brill. It's very different in many ways when you realize what you've been looking at. The holster pocket is very curvaceous, and on the automatics the cuff itself is even more curvaceous; the cuff is narrower than the early cuff (but both have the Brill mark at their centers), and that little "L" of stitching at the top of the welt? It now has a 'brother' that returns in the direction of the main seam. These improvements were introduced by Newton Rabensburg who went by simply 'Rabensburg' and who John and I usually just call "N.J." so we don't have to keep typing that long name and spell it right every time, too! There are other differences, very small.

On the backside is a huge difference when you realize: the pair of stitchlines that hold the cuff to the fender also have 'brother' stitches that return in the direction of the main line. Again they run off the edges of the cuff on the other side. They are ALWAYS 5 straight stitches on the left, and 8 stitches on the right side nearest the welted seam. OK, I have seen just a couple that had one more stitch on that right side. Punched with an awl by hand, sewn and tied off by hand.

Both eras had crossdraws. That's significant because it's the position of the cuff that defines the belt tunnel but on a crossdraw -- one could wear it as a straight up and down strong draw if one wanted but it wouldn't conceal -- and the Brill design was first and foremost, a concealment design for the Texas Rangers. To do that the fold was changed from an angled, positive caster setup (grip ahead of the front sight) to a right angle. But the Brill's cuff was not EVER moved; as if it were needed there at the frame of the pistol. Instead the fold of the holster was changed; either to the right angle as mentioned or even shifted upwards substantially to let the wider belt into the tunnel. And to make this arrangement work with a holster that was now up and down but the cuff was angled, a crossdraw Brill has either a bit of strong lace (as above) or, more commonly, an 'X' of hand sewing that became the support for that 'end' of the belt's width.

A very large difference is the number of welts. Early Brills, as mentioned, have just the one, very thick welt inside the main seam. Late Brills had two (see below) and even three welts (see above)! And so at the muzzle was a fourth! Looking below, the main stack is a Brill with just two welts, dropping to a single thickness; then two more welts stacked on top of it.

N.J. alone created this complex, layered structure of welts as they approached the muzzle of the holster, surely to make space for the muzzle of the pistol that he expected to lay flat against its wearer. On the evidence Brills were not wetted and shaped, and the brown ones not colored, either; so they were sold 'in the white' so to speak.

They also were NEVER made in plain except by his copiers; which may not be a fair characterization because it wasn't Brill's design but rather was created for Ranger captain Hughes to be made almost as an 'issue' holster by many TX makers that encircle its headquarters in Austin. There were dozens of these and that'll make up another post in the future

N.J. had his own carving style that is distinct from Charles Kluge's early style but still they shared the tiny basket stamp in their curious (because from Myres onwards it was never done) little imprints in a parallel vs angled pattern. The parallel version is very difficult to keep aligned! Notice the imprint of the mag button; now notice this next one has not only a hole (uncommon) for the mag button . . .

. . . but is amongst the rarest Brills: look carefully, it's open muzzle!


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