The invisible man
Updated: Nov 19
If you're like me, and you browse an auction site such as eBay and include the word 'vintage' in your holster search, you've seen the work of a chap who's been invisible to the gunleather collecting world for a hundred years and more.
He's Huston Wyeth and his products are quite common there, unique in their own way, and nearly always unmarked. That's because they are 'hardware store' holsters -- gun stores were called hardware stores in the early 20th century and even before; and these stores sold gunleather but didn't want them marked by their makers for fear it would just send future sales back to the maker.
Here are a pair of ads from the early 20th century showing just such an offering: unbranded gunleather by mail order retailers. Pay attention, please, to the model numbers that will then turn up on branded, and unbranded Wyeth holsters and belts.
Huston Wyeth lived 1863-1925 and was so wealthy that in the 1920 census he had a half-dozen British servants including a coachman. Yet we collectors have paid scant attention to his work because of the lack of marking.
Now notice the word 'pressed'. A very large clue to a Wyeth is that what we generally call 'carving' has been stamped into the leather with a single, preformed tool. Every holster will come out the same, and the labor savings is huge. We will find this method used in Brauer's of that same era but not since then. I can't think of any Western gunleather maker who used the method; not Myres, not anyone. It comes from saddlery where the fenders, for example, and corners of the skirt were done this way, and it's still done by some saddlers today.
Notice especially the horseman. You're going to see a lot of him:
The way the numbers are marked on a Wyeth is also distinctive:
And another 'pressed' or embossed style that is shown in the ads earlier in this piece:
But wait -- there's more. Wyeths are also found that are carved vs. embossed and they are VERY good:
There, notice above the distinctive shape of the 'cuff' that surrounds the holster itself. This is a very quick, visual clue that you've found a Wyeth. Below is a reasonably 'common' Wyeth pattern:
We know a bit more about Huston Wyeth including that his operations continued into the 1970s. Catalogs -- how about the muscular salesman who hefted this one?
In a way, then, Wyeths are not 'unmarked' but instead, are readily identifiable for a collector. I sent three emails yesterday alone to sellers on eBay, identifying their item for them.
And now we're thinking, that Wyeth made the elusive Sterling 'Super Speed' Holsters:
For two reasons: a tiny clue of the same 'hand carved' mark being used on both a Sterling and a Wyeth -- AND they were both based in St. Joseph MO! Which makes the Sterling holster something that was made for that company's resale vs. building it themselves.