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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 54: How to date a Bianchi (holster)

Updated: Jun 15

Not how to date family member! Ew.


As with Heiser, there are many maker's marks for the Bianchi range of gunleather. To the point that we don't know why; and have only the vaguest idea, in Heiser's case, of when. And knowing when they were used gets us very close to dating our collection of same.


It's fairly simple. Let's see if I can keep it that way (I've looked ahead, turns out it's not so simple). Note: I've added a bit of info on doing the same for Safariland's gunleather.



Above is believed to be the very first mark used and it's on a very tired-looking Model 1 holster that has only a hammer thong. Mighty early because in my time that began 1970 all such strapless holsters were being changed over to having a safety strap. This then would be the mark before Protector Brand that later was introduced in 1962; see below.



The Protector Brand mark above, was introduced with the brand itself in 1962 and made also in 1963. In 1964 a short-lived brand called Safari Ltd appeared when JB and Neale Perkins partnered in that business; see below. Very rare and this one is on a Model 45 Cooper Combat that began production that year:



That operation was dissolved in favor of Neale turning it into Safariland in '65 and JB starting afresh with Bianchi Holster in '66. This one is on a Nelson Combat model that first appeared in 1969:



THAT mark should have been 'it' for awhile but for some reason JB then changed to these stamps (see below) for Monrovia where he'd been for awhile anyway. Feared the orders getting lost in the mail perhaps? So the period is '66 to '70:



Well, guess what, he decided to shift out of Monrovia to Temecula to the south, didn't he; in 1972. So this mark is for 1970 to 1972 (I was one of several chaps who got to grind the 'monrovia' line from the stamps). Huh; now I'm beginning to see a problem telling these from the pre-Protector era:



Mid-70s someone (I think it was me) got the bright idea of using the new-to-us process called photoengraving, to do everything at once: install the mark, note the fitment, mark the stitchlines, do the 'creasing' of unlined holsters, even positioning marks. Bear in mind we were near our millionth holster by then so a few dollars spent on dies to save LOTS of dollars on labor and misalignments was a GREAT idea. Notice the 'Bianchi Star' is in it, too. The Avenger shown below was introduced in 1977:



The next dating point isn't the maker's mark per se, but instead is the switch to ornamenting the snap buttons (also called 'caps'). This was done 1985-ish and all other things being equal -- having a good idea when the model was being produced, seeing the maker's mark itself, and seeing the color of the thread -- then a plain button is early, an ornamented button is late.



Then somebody (not me, I was gone in 1987) in the new mob that took over had decided it would be cheaper to build in Mexico. I can appreciate why it would've seemed like a good idea to them at the time: everyone in manufacturing was rushing to find a way to take up what was called the 'maquiladora' program. The maquilas there were factories that essentially converted the raw materials exported into Mexico for the purpose, into a completed product; resulting in what is called a 'substantial transformation' of the materials; then reexported into the U.S. at a very low import tariff rate. Why bother? Because maquila workers in Mexico were making U$25 a WEEK for labor. It's the same reason that Safariland's Kydex products have been made there since around that time until very recently.


I saw an article that said new owner Jack Corbin had built a multi-million dollar home in L.A. somewhere; so the switch made a positive difference for somebody if not for you.


There should be nothing wrong with the quality of Hecho en Mexico. In that same era I set up manufacturing in a maquila that made a different kind of sporting equipment -- football protective gear -- in Tijuana and by the time I left that operation their quality was superior to the American version. BUT -- GIGO was operative for the revised Bianchi operation and we techies had left Bianchi when it was sold in late 1987 (and JB and his wife were fired within a few years) so the new mob couldn't teach the maquila workers how to make their gunleather superbly. Didn't know how. So today's is "Bianchi" in name only and in fact, is only a brand name of Safariland's. Which is the conglomerate vs the holster company Safariland, which brand it also owns. Confused!? But it's OK, I've a news report that says the conglomerate makes most of its money from body armor anyway, not on what I can't even call a holster any more. 'Bucket for pistol' perhaps.


Above: the managers of Bianchi International in the mid 1980s when "a man was a man and gunleather was damned glad of it". We were all wiped away at the sale in 1987.


A tip: even without the 'made in Mexico' marking on the backside of today's Bianchi gunleather, one can tell in an image from the thread color: it was changed from the traditional, off-white linen color despite being nylon, to a dark brown. Perhaps precisely so that it was obvious where it had been made? Or on a whim more likely. We'd not ever know even if we could find somebody there to ask. Which we couldn't.


Now: a big caveat -- all those marks above? There were products that had their own special markings and so they 'do not apply'. For example, the Model 9 then 9R then 9R-2 shoulder holsters had their own, unique markings that varied even within the different styles. As did the Model 27 police holster :-). Good luck there. Maybe you know an expert?


ADDENDUM: SAFARILAND GUNLEATHER


The joint venture of JB and NP that was called Safari Ltd (1964 its only year) was incorporated as Safari Land Ltd. That was a harbinger of things to come for JB because that year Neale and his father took their marbles and went elsewhere; turning Safari Ltd. into Safariland. Initially this new operation made JB's line for 1965:



Then replaced it with Neale's own approach, with Gordon Davis as 'action man' in the shop, with some models including what Neale called "SST" and available suede linings that he called "SSL".



There, then, are eras associated with HIS marks, too. The patent for the vaunted SST was applied for in January of 1967:



And the SST patent issued in October of 1968. Notice, too, that the logo itself changed then, too, with the earlier one of a springbok not being surrounded in a shield as it is on the later one:



That's a helping hand but only when the SST is involved (hey, that pancake above doesn't have SST in it; you don't suppose Neale, well, cheated do you?). Safariland made some holster both with and without SST, such as their model that competed with what we know best as JB's version of the Donihoo holster; which he called his No 2:



The above is with the SST; the below image is without it:



This last one is a rare version that includes the double rows of sewing that is the mark of a true Donihoo (adds real clamping power so that it can be made without a strap). The common version of the Safariland has just the one row that JB's version had. I reckon neither of them understood the function of the second row in the Donihoo version; which is what happens when one is copying vs. creating:




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