Charlie Askins and his Avenger
Updated: Nov 19
It's no secret that Colonel Charles Askins Jr. only had his name appended to the Askins Avenger by J.B. as an honorary title vs. Charlie actually having a hand in the holster's design. That's really neither here nor there because it's downright traditional to do this; beginning with Sam Myres and his Tom Threepersons holster, his Pink Simms, his Barton Special, and more if I put my mind to it. Why would an LEO or even a true gunfighter know anything about designing and building superb gunleather? Each is a calling of its own and to be best in either is to be second best in the other; Ray Chapman and Bruce Nelson, both of whom have holsters named for them (and by Bianchi, too!), come to mind as focusing on the competition shooting.
"The writer" above is Askins Jr. His son was Askins III who was killed by a car at age 6-1/2.
On that subject, then, it would be false to claim that Nelson invented the 'winged' crossdraw holster that we know him for. Instead the winged crossdraw -- sometimes called a 'trailing slot' holster because it was adapted for strong-side draw later -- was invented by Ed Clark who had several gunleather patents to his name. And he invented it by 1935!
Above is from a 1935 brochure from Pachmayr promoting the Clark 999 holster.
By the 1950s it was appearing even on TV programming including Dragnet and this is how Nelson came to be aware of the concept as he created his springless version that he called his No 1 Professional.
At that very moment the same holster but with the simpler spring of Dick Hoyt's, appeared:
Like Clark's, the Hoyt featured the wing to pull the grip into the torso; and a narrow loop on the backside of the holster that is indistinguishable from what Nelson claimed. Marked 'pat pend' the Hoyt is then before 1938 when the patent issued:
A far more significant patent was filed in 1971 by Illinois designer/maker, Roy Baker. Yes, Illinois; and it's possible that Rick Gallagher at Jackass in Illinois was making these for Roy at first; they weren't far apart geographically and Roy was not working in a leather shop then (intstead he was a heat treater). And it was to compete with the instant success of the Baker 'pancake' holster which patent issued in May of 1973, that caused us at Bianchi to scramble for a holster that wouldn't infringe Roy's patent. And that design was the Askins Avenger that appeared in Bianchi's 1977 catalog for the first time.
Yes, Bruce had his holster that emulated the E.E. Clark crossdraw. But he knew that it didn't work in any other position and he so-stated in his later 1990 catalog when he left law enforcement and returned to making gunleather in his retirement. At which time he returned to making his classics that were based on others' designs including the No. 1 Professional and the better-known Summer Special that was so-named by Jeff Cooper and was inspired by Heiser's No. 804 of the late 1940s. Bruce styled and constructed both of them in the manner of the suddenly famous Paris Theodore's work of the late 1960s. Paris had made 'strapless' work for autos!
The Avenger was created to do more than Roy's pancake did. The Avenger stayed open for holstering unlike the pancake that was pulled shut by the belt's tension on the fore and aft belt slots; and the Avenger took up far less space along the belt (some of us had 28" waists back then!) and it could be positioned between two pants loops at 4:00 vs. the pancake that needed to be attached at either side of the loops.
The Avenger was a hit! Not least because it was developed around the 1911 pistols that had also taken off like a rocket by the mid-1970s -- the first Kydex holster, the Snick of 1970, was built around it, too -- and gave us a head start against the pancake. We hadn't yet fully got our heads around the very limited patent that had been crafted for Roy Baker for his own invention. We resolved this for the Shadow holster by meticulously honoring what was set out in Roy's patent and doing the Shadow differently. Clever name by JB: fits as close as your shadow :-).
Not so much was this Milt Sparks' practice. He'd already 'distinguished' himself by copying all of the now-disabled Andy Anderson's line of competition gear, and by making a copy of the Sloan patented holster without Hank's permission who died soon after; and now he set about copying the successful Askins Avenger by persuading himself that ANOTHER holster maker he'd copied, Bruce Nelson, had created it. Oh, yes, Bruce eventually gave Milt permission to make his copies but Milt started out without asking, by copying the Summer Special line-for-line at the request of a narc agent. Said so in print. Jeff Cooper and Elmer Keith were happy to lend a helping hand with publicity; what did they know, or care, about patents, eh?
The design was such a success that since then, first it was Milt who issued a copy ten years later and many have made it to the point where it is a standard design, like a Threepersons for the revolvers. Trouble is, Milt copied the Avenger's flaws, too :-).
Not being a holster designer, Milt didn't realize that the original Askins Avenger carried the pistol too high to be worn without a 'good gunbelt' to make up for the high center of gravity. Which then required the pistol to be lifted far higher for drawing than it should have. And this was CAUSED -- by the belt loop on its backside forcing the rear sight outwards while the pancake kept it in close to the body.
The real answer turned out to be, narrowing that belt panel on the backside until it was the equivalent of the forward slot. The rear sight then stopped being twisted outwards to print under clothing. Milt solved it, with the help of his equally untrained designer/maker Tony Kanaley, by extending the trailing slot well out from the holster pocket and straightening the holster to about 17 degrees positive caster. But they still kept the pistol too high.
An avenger-style holster, ideally executed, sets as low on the belt as Paris Theodore advocated: with the mag button just above the upper edge of the belt. That seems an arbitrary standard and it IS; what it does is coincide with the notion that one cannot lower a 1911 holster further without the belt interfering with the knuckle of the second finger. This is the so-called 'knuckle clearance' that Nelson was advocating in his holster pockets without realizing that it was equally necessary to clear the belt edge.
The ultimate avenger does not need the reinforced mouth of the original, and has the belt panel substantially reconfigured to replace the missing forward slot of the original pancake holster. Mine is no longer in production but it is the very best avenger ever and even incorporates an internal panel that forces the grip outwards, too; in concert with the changed belt panel. When someone realizes and copies it, you, too, will be able to see for yourself :-).
Say, on that subject of copying: some years ago I ran across a forum post -- I think it was on leatherworkers.net -- wondering why my slots look like they do. I call them 'skeleton slots'. There they decided my slots didn't have any obvious merit so they weren't going to copy them. Great!! However, they do have significant merit: the hole at each end forms the 'admission ticket' for the belt edges because the edges have substantial thickness, while the remaining center when it is facing inwards towards the holster pocket, creates a 'cantilever effect' and actually stiffens the panel. This arrangement also resists allowing the holster to slide along the belt itself, as the layout tries to squeeze shut! I'll explain it better in another post sometime, and with better pics.