The nuts & bolts of Roy Baker's holstory
Updated: Mar 19
A recent post on a forum about Baker that is filled with misinformation by a former maker who doesn't know the nuts & bolts of Baker's life, inspires me to set the record straight. One won't say "once and for all" because that's just not gonna happen; folks repeat things they've 'heard' as if they were sent down from the Mount.
It wasn't easy to 'find' Roy because at first we didn't have his middle name or initial. That made it hard to separate him from all the other Roy Bakers in America. Then we couldn't just assume he was born in AR just because his business was there. But -- we got there in the end.
He was Roy L Baker and indeed was b. in AR; in April of 1922. He appears in the 1930 and 1940 census as the son of a farmer and enlisted in the Army 1942 as a farm hand. And this is where he meets the equally-famous Andy Anderson. He married Fayma who was just 16 in 1946 and appears in the record as a heat treater in an IL city directory; married to her.
This last is significant because the very first Baker pancakes appear as being made in IL; I suspect initially in cooperation with the freshly-minted holster maker Rick Gallagher who founded Jackass Leather just at the time that Baker's products launched in the early '70s. Rick was in Chicago and quite close to the address given by Baker in IL. And these uncommon examples are marked 'patent pending'.
The mark reads 'Roy's - 2729 Cannon Street - Rockford, Ill, 61109'
He filed his patent application for the now-famous pancake holster that became a staple for all makers then and now, in 1971 and it issued in 1973. For this reason we encounter his IL-marked pancakes as with and without a 'patent pending' mark -- which then allows us to date these holsters fairly precisely.
BANG! His product took off like a rocket. I recall standing in line at a cafe for the N.S.G.A. show and discussing this new concept with JB, and he looks over my shoulder and says, "Hi, Roy" and we continue our conversation with the man of the hour himself, Roy Baker. I'm like, all of twenty-something.
He doesn't last long but for good reasons, not bad. His first catalog that I know of is from AR that is his birthplace and for 1976. His ads appear before it does and its early success has the rest of us scrambling to compete while knowing he has a patent. That of course we have a copy of :-). "The better to design around you, my dear".
He's got a hot product in more than just the holster itself; it's a franchise and he finds a buyer -- or the buyer finds him, more likely -- very quickly : for 13 July 1978 one Calvin Porter announced via Skeeter Skelton that he has acquired Baker's company. That leaves Roy operating his company from '71 to '78 maximum.
And in 1980 he announces that 'Roy Baker is no longer associated with' the company. Founders just don't last after they sell up; JB himself was fired from Bianchi Holsters within 2-3 years of selling his own company -- sellers want to keep operating as if they were still the owners and the new owners just don't like that!
It is from this paragraph that appears on the back cover of Baker's 1977 catalog, that I deduced Roy is referring to apprenticing to Andy Anderson -- and Bob Arganbright confirmed it for me. None of us in industry knew at the time!
Fayma died in '79 and Jim Buffaloe, who worked for Baker and many more gunleather makers after that, told me that Roy spent all the money he earned from the sale of his company on booze and hookers. Jim's gone; but well after Roy died in July 1990. There then, are several eras of Baker holsters that are not the seamless group they appear to be.
As mentioned, the first is the IL series:
The second, and best known, is the original AR series:
When the company changes hands, so does the maker's mark that is still in AR:
Followed by 'Hidden Thunder':
The last records we've found for the 'new' company operated by Calvin Porter are for 1983. And in 1986 the remains of the company have ended up with Strong Holster, of all people. It was not Roy's later death that was the end of Porter's pancake company:
From Strong's 1987 catalog that would have been prepared at the end of 1986 in preparation for the trade shows such as SHOT in January of '87. Industry practice.
It strikes me, because I look for the patterns in holstory, that he and Andy were born in AR within a year of each other and died within a year of each other, too; because Roy apprenticed to Andy at the latter's saddlery in Fort Smith AR at War's end and they remained lifelong friends. The two went so far as to share bulk hardware purchases such as the 'hammered' buckle we associate with Andy's sets; and Roy was authorized to make Andy's iconic double-mag pouch; according to my friend Bob Arganbright who knew both men.
We still don't know what his middle initial 'L' is for. Oh, here it is: Roy Lee Baker.