The five flavors of Colt's
Updated: Nov 19
It was in 1957 that Colt's decided to enter the gunleather market. It's a coincidence that this year is the peak of Arvo Ojala's new fame with his new fast draw holster, then the fast draw era that followed. The 1950s though, was a decade of an increased focus on gunleather because television was a big hit for cowboys and lawmen who were both young and old. And Colt's first holster catalog appeared:
It was Claude Parr, Heiser's plant superintendent by the Keyston decade that coincided, who said it best in a 1951 newspaper interview: "Since the last War, everyone wants to carry a pistol". Despite not being a Heiser, Parr was a big name there and it was his death in 1967 that meant the end for the brand; the operation dropped its Heiser-Keyston-Lichtenberger name and became just "Keyston" the very next year.
In that first year, and a few after, the Colt's range was entirely LEO gear. The 'C' prefix, it turns out, was for its maker, Courtlandt Boot Jack of New York city (a drawing of a hunter with his .22 Colt automatic didn't make the gunleather 'sporting'):
These prefixes for the model numbers were significant: there would be more and that prefix for the first many years of Colt's holsters indicated the maker. In 1960 the range was expanded to include sporting styles and this set was prefixed "O" -- Ojala himself:
This was Wally Wolfram's year, too. His holsters are prefixed "W":
And Wally's presence with Colt's was significant for all of holstory: it was he who mentored a very young John Bianchi who himself was just setting out on his own influential journey beginning in '62. He and Wally were fellow officers on Monrovia P.D. since he left the Army in '58 and Wally had made the move to there from Albuquerque NM in 1953 where he operated as Wolf Brand; now uncommon in their own right. As 'himself' his products were marketed as 'Blazer". Notice the two stitching failures, both at the same spot under the belt:
Wally begat Bianchi, who begat Perkins at Safariland which ended up owning Wolfram Leather and selling it on to Bangor Punta -- who turned it into S&W Leathergoods that became . . . Gould & Goodrich which still exists today under different ownership.
By 1964 the range had narrowed substantially (did you pick the 'H' prefix in the previous page, and recognize even the holster itself, as Hunter, which since '52 had been the gunleather arm of Colorado Saddlery): only Wolfram's leather remained (below) and they dropped the prefixes altogether:
By '68 it was all over between Wolfram and Colt's. Wolfram now was owned by Smith & Wesson and Colt's was forced to change vendors for their holsters. This one is Colt's 1970 catalog:
It is at this point that there are two subtle changes to the construction of the holsters. First is that Wolfram's had been marked "Colt" in a large oval:
Now they were marked in a circle 'again' because the original LEO gear by Courtlandt had been marked in a very small circle, too. It is our expectation that these with the large circle were made by J.M. Bucheimer of Maryland:
The second subtle change was to the 'crease' or bevel on the face of the plain Colt's holsters. For a Wolfram-made holster this was done by hand and was a true bevel as is done for floral carved holsters:
Whereas the 'new' version had that crease built into the cutting die and is simply an evenly-shaped mark in the leather for that reason:
The belt loops of a Wolfram are also stitched very differently, as below:
But the 'new' Seventies Colt's were stitched like a Bucheimer and the Heisers before them (same designer originally). The red circle in the image below reminds us that even the start/stop point for the sewing changed to that of the Bucheimer method, which was inferior because of the stress at that point from the belt in the tunnel:
If all this seems a ridiculous amount of minutiae, it is! But we care because it tells us how to DATE the various Colt's holsters. So no sense telling an experienced collector that an obviously '70s model was made in the Sixties, now, is there; obvious from its styling, its marking, it's construction, even its maker.
I promised you FIVE flavors. Courtlandt was the first, Wolfram and Ojala and Hunter followed, then Bucheimer -- then a company you've not ever heard of: Tayra, which made not gunleather but among the earliest (which was the '65 JC&G) polymer holsters. Say, Bill Rogers, it's even an open front before yours of 1973!
The commercial ad by Tayra in '71:
And the far better-known Colt that appeared in its 1970 catalog:
The Ojala's are the least common of the Colt's and the most collectible. Tales to the contrary it's implausible that anyone actually made these Colt-marked holster sets other than Arvo's operation in California and they disappeared when he did:
You will see in the above image that Arvo attempted to get his cost down, having committed to his price, by using a split leather for the lining of both holster and belt. Now see his original version for Colt's that is made with the same full-grain leather as his own sets:
It would be hard to say which is rarer because they're both uncommon anyway. Less common is the version that was made for Daisy; again, the same sets but with different markings. And not shown here because while they are Ojalas, they are not Colt's. The Ojalas were in Colt's catalog for '60 and '61 but not, as mentioned, in subsequent catalogs and by the next one for '64, Arvo himself had been closed down in California by a legal dispute with Andy Anderson.
Did anyone else notice that I've mentioned more than five flavors of Colt's? I'll close with a bit of interesting miscellany that Witty correctly calls 'ephemera' instead:
Found only on the Wolframs I believe: