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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 62: A helping hand

Updated: Jun 14

I saw this holster in an auction on eBay and knew what I was looking at but the seller didn't: a 150 year-old American holster in as-new condition. Of course I doubted myself so referred her to Rick Bachman who is the acknowledged expert on 19th century gunleather (Witty and I specialize in the 20th; and there are no 21st century gunleather styles; i.e., what we have today are holdovers from the 20th). She tells me he concurred! And one of the images I scanned to send her for comparison includes a credit to Rick for his example -- from 'Packing Iron' which devotes 20 color pages to the California 'Slim Jim' style alone among 'civilian' styles that followed the Civil War. I would expect him to be the last word on these matters.



By then I had recommended to her that the highest price w/b realized on a 'real' auction site such as Julia, or Morphy, and not on eBay.



It has several features of what is known as the California pattern, beyond its styling. Its sewing is called 'chain stitching' and this is the very oldest form of machine sewing. It is not strong but the maker of this ancient beauty could dispute that! The chain stitch dates, incredibly, to 1830 so its presence not only doesn't make it modern, but actually validates its age. All during the twentieth century gunleather makers have used lockstitching instead. Chain stitching (from Wikipedia) shows only on the backside as it does on the holster I'm discussing with you. Exposed to abrasion the threads will chafe away and the complete stitch can be unraveled with a single pull of that exterior bobbin thread:



The carving style also was not ever used in the 20th century: rather than incising the leather with a swivel knife in the Mexican-carving method (see my blog post on the 5Ws of that style) and then stamping around the cuts, here the leather has been gouged away in the frontier method (I will call it; I don't know the style's technical name) as the complete effect.


The muzzle plug if missing would have ruined all expectations of it being genuine; but it is present and the hand-pierced awl marks that remain where the threads have gone missing are authentic to the period (Tex Shoemaker and Safariland used a special machine in what's called 'box stitching'):



What of course is incredible, is that other examples in Western history museums tend to show their age and yet this one does not. Wow. Is it a con? To replicate it one would have to know what to get right and be consistent about it by getting nothing wrong. Even the rudimentary belt loop is correct to the style. The image below is about 25 years earlier:


Not ever seen one? Acquire a copy of "Packing Iron". Your three contributors here each have a copy. The book is not cheap if you can find one, it's been out of print since 1995 or so, and it has flaws in its treatment of 20th century leather. For the 19th though, the above is just one of its 20 pages about the California pattern. Notice the identical construction and peculiar carving, and that Bachman himself is credited in the caption there.


Packing Iron is the benchmark for info about 19th century gunleather. Guess which book is the benchmark for info about "Holstory -- Gunleather of the TWENTIETH Century"? :-).


P.S. when you understandably find yourself wondering about how a holster of any real age could look so good, consider this 1959 -- so 60 years old -- capgun holster from Keyston that's on eBay right now:



What's the secret? It's been kept in the box since new. It is sunlight that changes the color of leather, and moisture that causes rust and mold. This one is not 'as new'; it's NEW and being sold by the son of the collector on his behalf, who is not in good health. I chatted with the son via eBay messaging because another that plainly had the Kilgore logo embossed on it was on offer as a Keyston. "That's not a Keyston" his dad told him the next day. "But Dad, you told me it was a Keyston", said his son. "Nope, it's a Kilgore. Says so right there." :-).

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