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  • Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 74: Who do you think you are?

Updated: Jun 23

Every maker of gunleather (there are no women innovators in holstory 1905-1985) has a mythology about the 5Ws of the company he founded. I know I think about the founder of IBM and the tale he told about 'why'; but it takes little imagination to be certain that he founded it to put food on the table! Certainly the saddlers who became gunleather makers, like Myres and Heiser and Keyston and Lawrence, made the switch because the automobile of the early 20th century had put 2/3 of Texas' saddlers alone out of business (so saith Sandra Myres, Sam Myres' biographer). True, for our path to 'success', whatever that really is, we follow our muse; H.H. Heiser himself was a German book binder so leather -- saddlery -- was the path he followed (virtually all saddlers in USA were German / Germanic).



Which leads us to consider why even the founders, including the living ones, didn't/don't truly understand their real contribution to gunleather? An article about Heiser in 1954 is quite a lengthy history and does not get ONE single date correct!


My first example is Paris Theodore. One of his several obituaries reveals that, on his deathbed, Paris uttered the words, "I was 'Q'", the Bond character who created all of Bond's gadgets including weaponry. I don't doubt that. But his contribution to the world was much bigger than silencers and cutoff pistols: despite the Eastern School of holsters being founded by Chic Gaylord, it was Paris who both put him out of business, and also popularized Chic's methodology to the point that virtually all concealment gunleather is made that way to this very day. Examples abound: Milt Sparks' "Summer Special" by Bruce Nelson was inspired by Paris' designs. Bianchi's "Pistol Pocket" by yours truly was inspired by Paris' designs. The demand for Paris' gunleather because he could no longer deliver by the mid-'70s was the very reason for the founding of Lou Alessi's NYC operation, and Gene DeSantis', too. Paris d. in 2006 and so from 1966 onwards he did not ever come to terms with what he really accomplished. His shop (horsehide 'butts' in the background):



My second example is John Bianchi. The other day a subscriber here contacted me to mention that JB tells a fascinating tale of how he came to invent the belt fastener used on the M12 holster. That's what JB remembers?! Instead his accomplishment was best expressed by Michael Punzone, the now deceased founder of High Noon Holsters: "John Bianchi made it possible for everyone to have a high quality holster -- now". Michael was speaking of John's introduction of authorized stocking dealers: to get the full 40% off retail to carry JB's line, a dealer had to make a large, minimum purchase of a factory-specified assortment of gunleather. It was not so different from what S&W did during its 'blue box syndrome' heyday: you want the M29 because of Dirty Harry? Your shop must also buy the Kit Gun and the gunleather. Heiser didn't do this nor any other gunleather maker until JB in the '60s. Again, 1962 to the present day, JB has not ever come to terms with what he really accomplished. It wasn't a holster here or a contract there. And especially not a bit of hardware originally fashioned with tin snips.



Neale Perkins can be Number 3. I've copies of many interviews of Neale during his Safariland days including a personal interview of him I conducted that was accompanied by his personal tour with me of the Safariland factory (I promised then to never reveal how some of his machinery worked to make holsters and I never have revealed it; I'll include a third-party photograph that gives a hint and you'll STILL not work it out).



Reading over his interviews in the light of the 21st century, it's almost as if Neale didn't know much about gunleather. And he didn't; he was a marketer and made his millions by taking on companies that had created demand but couldn't fill it: body armor, flashlights, speed loaders, and car bras of all things. And this led to armor for the Warthog plane to protect its GE minigun in the nose -- which led to a fishing line called Spyderwire that led to a 100 million dollar sale of his company in 1989! Yet, his biggest accomplishment, still was in 'gunleather': by taking up Bill Rogers' plastic technology for holsters, he put an end to all innovation in leather. It was at that time that Uncle Mike's had popularized padded fabric for entry level buyers, and JB took it up, too (even paid a license fee to them) to create the M12 military holster. And ll innovation in gunleather dried up right at that moment: 1985. Below is a Kydex laminate from Safariland:



Number 4: Roy Baker revolutionized the product lines of all gunleather makers. One knows when a particular maker, such as O. Ball of Texas who likely goes back to the '50s, made a 'pancake' style holster: 1970s; because the style wasn't invented until the beginning of that decade. Every maker, Bianchi included, jumped on that bandwagon. Everyone. To this day it is a staple of all maker's lines; in which case Roy made a lot of money for other holster companies! Because he sold out in 1980 when his wife died and, Jim Buffaloe says, drank himself to death by 1990. Example: someone else's pancake holster (mine, for DeSantis, and much improved over Roy's simplistic effort) --



Number 5: Bruce Nelson. Truth be told, Bruce, who was my predecessor at Bianchi Holsters, breathed life into Milt Sparks' company. Milt had begun by copying Andy Anderson's leatherslap rigs but in an interview, he laments that the 'fickle' (his word) competitors had changed allegiances to others (like us at Bianchi, and Safariland) so he switched to concealment leather. One example of a Sparks copy of an Anderson:



Milt was no designer; he was a copyist. So he continued making Bruce Nelson's gunleather, but of course without paying him for same. "It's an honor just to be nominated" and Bruce was happy with being credited. How like a Baby Boomer to be what generational scientists call 'idealists'. I'm one, too! And so is President Trump. So if there had been no Bruce Nelson, Milt's operation would have fallen at the second hurdle that spelled the end of demand for his Anderson copies (he also didn't pay Andy anything for his copies). That leaves Bruce's contribution as: he made money for Milt Sparks and the men who carried on after Milt died in the same year that Bruce did. Several of Paris', noting especially the IWB that inspired Bruce's "Summer Special":



H.H. Heiser at #6: during Hermann's lifetime the company made only saddlery. No holsters. Never. But after his death it was his three sons who added gunleather and there is so much Heiser gunleather readily for sale today that surely the Heiser boys created the first mass-production gunleather outside of the single-product manufacturing of G.I. gunleather for the World Wars. The sons put in sewing machines immediately after Hermann's death, put out a new catalog every single year until its ultimate demise as a Keyston subsidiary in 1976, and hold the record (and always will) for longest family ownership of a leather company (1858 was the sons' claimed founding, which is not really correct so they used several!). Yet when one reads biographies of the company including one by its president during the Keyston years, 'first mass production gunleather' doesn't even warrant a mention. What does get mentioned? Their copying a famous Pony Express saddle for a parade!


This image was taken just after the 'main son', Ewald Heiser who operated the saddlery, was killed in '49:



And I'll close, for now, with Number 7: A.W. Brill gave three interviews to a Texas newspaper in the 1920s and the Sunday holster (he does not call it that) gets a mention in every one. He wouldn't have realized then but the Sunday holster was the progenitor for the FBI's holster beginning 1935 and is a standard to this very day. The Myres Threepersons overshadows the Brill to the point where few outside of readers of our book "Holstory" realize that the Sunday holster's creation for Texas Rangers to conceal their revolvers high on the belt with the grip pitched forward and strapless, was the beginning of the modern holster. August also gave birth, almost literally, to a legend: his grandaughter was with her husband and the Kennedys when the two men were shot from behind in 1963. This is Doc White: Texas Ranger, BATF agent, and FBI agent:



Nope, instead I'll close with #8: Tom Threepersons. There are literally hundreds of separate items of publicity about Tom that have survived to the present day. And in all of them he is the winner of the 1912 Calgary Stampede, Bucking Bronc championship. But he did NOT do that; it was done by a different Indian -- from another country! But what he DID do, is lend his name to a holster style that he favored, to the versions made by Sam Myres (to generate royalties for Tom).


He succeeded to the point where Googling his name in the 21st century will turn up mostly 'hits' relating to his holster, not to the man himself. But he didn't win the Calgary Stampede.


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