Post 73: Lawrence as an also-ran
Updated: Jun 22
Sharp-eyed readers of John Witty's and my book, Holstory--Gunleather of the Twentieth Century, will realize that there are makers who simply aren't in it.
Lawrence IS in it, as simply too big to leave out. But in part because the book's mission is to record only those makers who made an innovation contribution in the period 1905-1985, there are other makers that didn't make it. What did Alessi, for example, or DeSantis, build that wasn't simply a follow-on to the real innovation that came out of Paris Theodore's own NYC operation, Seventrees? Gene even acknowledges in an interview that it was Paris who put him in the business (as I recall, by Paris not being able to deliver his orders).
So there's a group of makers that I store in a file directory called 'Indiana Jones'. The name comes from a Big Bang Theory episode; and in it the character Amy points out to her paramour Sheldon Cooper that the original film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, would have turned out 'exactly the same', with or without Indy!
Which helps us realize there are makers who, if their companies hadn't ever existed, wouldn't have been missed and so I think of them as the Indiana Jones of holstory. Brauer Bros. comes to mind, out of St. Louis. Colorado Saddlery that led to Hunter: no innovations at all, it simply coexisted in Denver with its forebear, H.H. Heiser. All the Brillalike makers of Texas save for the notables like A.W. Brill himself, and L.A. Sessums. Bucheimer-Clark, perhaps -- would Dirty Harry have been the same film with a different shoulder holster? Of course it would have; in fact only the second film included the B-C holster and subsequently became Bianchi X15 holsters. The following is for WWII not WW1:
Lawrence somehow avoided the 'Indy Curse' by simply producing gunleather of first-rate quality over a very long period of time. Otherwise they contributed no new designs at all. So Lawrence is in our book Holstory but not in a big way; except for some striking images of Lawrence's workmanship.
And so I expand on that now (this next Lawrence mark was used only on their creels):
The company used a very early founding date because it was not originally Lawrence at all, but rather Sherlock Bros. in Portland OR where the company remained until it was closed by its new owners (Gould & Goodrich!) in 1990. George Walter Lawrence Sr. joined the brothers William and Samuel Sherlock in 1874 in part because he had married their sister, Rose Sherlock in 1861. He bought the place in 1893 and changed the company's name to the one we know today: The George Lawrence Co.
Above: it's unlikely you'll ever see another -- a Sherlock Bros. holster. The tool used to make the central pattern is called a 'seeder' and still used today.
A steady stream of heirs followed after 'founder' G.W. Sr. was b. 1832. His son William C. Lawrence was b. in 1870 whose own son was W.C. Lawrence Jr. b. 1905. And HIS son was W.C. Lawrence III, who I knew when he was the final Lawrence family member to own and operate the George Lawrence Co. 1970-90. These men are all deserving of a mention because the company changed as they came and went.
G.W. Sr. was operating his business in 1916 when he gave an interview telling Portland that he employed 63 persons and had 20 sewing machines in operation. There he is reassuring his customer base, which was the NW States, that saddlery would survive the Model T et al. But it didn't and both George and his wife Rose d. by 1922. It was left to their son William C. Lawrence Sr. and grandson Jr. to shepherd the company into its new world that included at least a brief foray into automotive supplies -- and finally into gunleather beginning 1937. That's right, the old line gunleather company was a relatively new entry when we consider that Heiser began its gunleather range in 1906, Brill in 1912, and Myres in a very small way by 1916 (and in a much bigger way in 1930).
It wasn't until 1940 that the Keith holster, which was a clone of the Myres 'Threepersons' but with a much longer safety strap, appeared. Below is a John Taffin image:
Son Bill Lawrence III, the man we in industry knew in the '70s, '80s and '90s as Lawrence's president, was b. in '33 and his grandfather W.C. Lawrence Sr. d. in the early part of '45 and so before WWII ended with Germany. The messages from the president began to appear as signed by Jr. and in '84 he passed away and had passed the baton to Bill III by then. Bill III told me that he himself fell from his horse in '89 and was paralyzed and so in that year sold his family's company to G&G as mentioned. Bob Gould later told me then that he and Jon Goodrich found Lawrence's antiquated business practices, plus the distance between the coasts, to be too great for resolution and they closed down Lawrence. For a very brief time the Lawrence name was used by industry insider and innovator Jim Buffaloe but he has since passed on, too.
During all this, Lawrence built some magnificent gunleather that for too long was lumped in with the basic offering from Hunter because the two companies' gunleather was all cloned from Heiser's earliest designs. But the workmanship in some Lawrence gear that has survived into the present day, especially its Mexican carving in the Sheridan style, is without parallel by any gunleather maker of holstory. And it is now very collectible for a gunleather era that lasted 1948-1990 under family ownership. Which is one hell of a lot longer than either Bianchi or Safariland each lasted under family control :-).
But would today's gunleather be any different today, had The George Lawrence Co. not existed? Seems unlikely. For example, for Bill Lawrence III, it was restoring their fishing creels that was his passion: