Post 65: The plastic fantastic (it's not about the car)
Updated: Jun 18
This is not the first thermoformed plastic holster, but it is the first Kydex thermoformed holster; called the 'Snick' (actually the second generation of the Snick):
The very first 'plastic fantastic' holster was this one from a little-known company in '65 called JC&G Ltd:
The story outlines that it was made from Royalite, which was a relatively new ABS polymer sheet. The better-known Kydex appeared that same year and is a blended polymer of acrylic and PVC. Kydex was developed for aircraft interiors to be flame-proof; which it is but man does it melt and smoke. Caution to those makers who work with it: the fumes alone of melting Kydex are poisonous.
The JC&G is a complex crossdraw, really, that consists of two shells with one inside the other. Pulling at the grip of the pistol shifts the interior shell out of the exterior, fixed shell that is attached to the belt; then the interior shell pops open to release the revolver. I doubt there is a single one of these left in the world.
The significant 'next step' in polymer holsters was the first Kydex holster. A friend of mine and Bianchi Holsters customer, Bud Watson, introduced me as an eager young 20 year-old to what would become IPSC in '76: the leatherslaps of the Southwest Pistol League in 1970's Los Angeles area (ouch, now you now how old I am). Jeff Cooper dominated the rules of that style he had promulgated beginning in the mid '50s; and now that it had evolved into a purely 1911 automatic sport he decided that holsters had to become 'practical'. And in that regard he had in his sights, the Anderson and Alfonso 'open fronts' of which I have one of the former hanging on my wall:
The open front evolved from the fast draw era and was made by the same leathersmiths. In it, the muzzle of the 1911 is resting on a leather plug that is laced into the muzzle of the holster -- and there is no front! In the image above a trio of leather straps are closed around that open front and one could use 1, 2, 3, and, ideally, 0 of them depending on the contest. One draws from the '0' setup by sweeping the pistol straight to the target.
Jeff didn't like 'em. This was a time when competitors carried their pistols around on the range and they might, or might not, be loaded (the pistols, not the competitors). Easy, then, for a careless elbow to knock the pistol out of the open front and into the dirt.
New rule! That became known as the 2-G rule: inverted, the holster was required to retain its pistol with another suspended from it; so two gravities I suppose. An open front wasn't going to pass THAT test (well, with its strap; but then one had to compete with the strap closed). Oh, yeah!?, said Bud, not liking the restriction at all. And so he invented the Snick. I was there in '70 when he trotted up to the line with his yellow Kydex open front that had a little tab that fitted into the ejection port of his 1911.
Bud worked in aerospace and had a some in yellow (Western airlines perhaps?) from his work there and in his wife's oven he whipped up the first Kydex holster. And well before Bill Rogers' holster of three years later, it was a forward draw; the pistol being retained in the upright position by its tab.
Mike Harries (pictured above) is mistakenly credited with the Snick but instead, because Bud didn't want to be bothered with making the darned things, was its marketer.
Doggone it if Jeff didn't like it! So much for mockery of the rule itself; more like 'irony'. And it became The Snick for the sound it made while drawing the pistol. It rode high on the belt like Rogers' later holster would, and attached to the belt with a form of paddle, too. Jeff wrote glowingly of it in his 1974 book 'Cooper on Handguns':
Bill Rogers followed up with his own forward draw made of Kydex and proceeded to claim, incorrectly, that he had invented it:
His first was for revolvers and specifically for the FBI (didn't you have to disclose that to your employers, Bill?). His interviews make it clear that he didn't much like the FBI and it seems they didn't much like him, either, for criticizing their shooting training; and he left there in '73 when, not by coincidence, the draft was eliminated (all agents were excluded from the draft; it certainly beat coming home to your loved ones in a body bag).
As we pointed out in Holstory the Book, it bore a strong resemblance to Paris Theodore's all-leather holster that was a top draw; right down to the grip around the underside of the trigger guard and the exposed trigger and cylinder. And a thumbsnap (Paris used primarily what's called a 'pull-thru' version of that)!
So Rogers' was not the first Kydex holster. Instead what Bill did was work out a way to laminate leather inside the Kydex in a way that wouldn't then be delaminated by further heating. His minders at FBI didn't like the noise, or the wear, of the metal pistol inside the holster that he proposed to sell to them after leaving FBI. And being a plastics man he not only stuck with plastic but used a heat-activated adhesive to keep the lining in place when the laminate was heated at a lower temp for forming it to the pistol.
He didn't bother then, telling the patent examiner he was already using this method in his earlier, first patent for the holster itself, when he applied for his second patent that was the patent that made his fortune. Masquerading as a waterproof laminate, it was the very laminate he had used for his paddle holster; but adding the use of Neale Perkins' rubber-padded forming presses to shape them. That's what the examiner would have called 'obvious to one with ordinary skill in the art'; had he or she known about it. But then as since, Rogers' methodology was to cite no art to the examiner and let the USPTO find it -- if they could. Naughty, Bill! But clever.
That made his fortune, and Neale's, too. And in this way Bill played Yoko to the holster industry: the "Beatles" of gunleather broke up and all innovation in gunleather ceased in 1985. Neale went with the laminate, at first trying to use real leather on the outside but discovering that wet leather does NOT like being very, very hot (shrivels) and so switched to synthetic called Porvair; which had its own problems that like pregnancy, take a lot longer to appear than the initial act. Safariland's 1983 catalog featured the first of Rogers' laminated holsters:
JB had chased instead, the padded laminate tech to create the M12 and that's where I made his fortune (he liked to tell the story of the entrepreneur who would take his charges to the top of a neary hill and tell them, 'apply yourself, work hard, and one day all of this will be MINE!'). How right he was; huge Government contract in his pocket, he sold out within a year.
With all those problems and with a high level of labor that was not even second to that of gunleather, Safariland recently dropped Kydex construction and changed over their production to injection molding. Unsurprising given that Bill himself had not ever been a holster maker but rather a plastics worker: his company was Alpha Plastics. Surely he's retired to richer pastures by now, as I have?