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MODEL 1892 UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS HOLSTER – SECOND TYPE  - FOR THE .38 COLT PISTOL – VERY RARE SPECIMEN:  This United States Marine Corps Model 1892 .38 Caliber Colt Revolver Holster is the exact specimen shown in on page 570 of US Military Holsters and Related Accoutrements, by E. Scott Meadows, and was purchased directly from the author’s collection.  This specimen is the only one known at this time which includes all three features of being a Model 1892 Holster made in brown leather and embossed with “USMC”, the very definition of an incredibly rare accoutrement.   

Produced to carry the series of .38 Caliber Colt Double Action Pistols adopted during the 1890’s, this holster pattern was produced for the US Army at Rock Island Arsenal, and saw extensive service during the Spanish American War.  Identified in the collector community as the Model 1892 “Second Type”, this holster was fitted with the larger belt loop which would accommodate the double loop woven cartridge belts.  

This holster is an identical match in size and features to the black leather US Army holsters of the same pattern produced at Rock Island Arsenal between 1892 and 1902, even down to the location of the arsenal maker and inspector stamps.  The only difference between the US Army 1892 Holsters and this holster being that this holster was manufactured of russet leather. 

That the pattern of this holster so closely adheres to the Model 1892 Holsters, yet made in russet leather, raises some interesting considerations when attempting to date it. 

Tracing the evolution of the US Army’s .38 caliber revolver holsters, it is notable that the belt loop on this USMC holster and those on Model 1892 US Army holsters are slightly, but noticeably, larger than the belt loops on the russet leather Model 1903 Holsters produced at Rock Island.  Again, the belt loop on this holster is identical to the Model 1892 Second Type Holster issued to the army.  Whether the Marine Corps intended this holster to be worn on a Mills double looped cartridge belt or not, the belt loop on this holster would have accommodated the thicker belt as did the army holsters.   

So, this holster presents in russet leather, but was produced in a pattern which dated from the black leather period that had been superceded by a newer pattern holster, the Model 1903.  If this USMC holster was made after Rock Island began producing the Model 1903 Holsters, it seems inconsistent that the arsenal would use an earlier pattern as opposed to the current pattern. 

The more well known Model 1889 Marine Corps holster is known to have been manufactured in russet leather, while the same pattern holster was manufactured for the US Navy in black leather, suggesting that the Marine Corps had decided to produce their accoutrements in russet leather before the US Army changed the color of leather equipment from black to russet in 1902. 

The final clue to explaining the combination of irreconcilable features of this holster may be found in the Rock Island Arsenal production records for the .38 caliber holsters as provided by Meadows on page 153 of his US Military Holsters and Related Accoutrements.  In 1898, Rock Island began producing a significant quantity of the Model 1892 Holsters in “fair” leather, rather than black leather, and between the years 1898 and 1902 they report a total production in fair leather of 30,939.  No additional fair leather holsters were produced after 1902, instead the arsenal switched to “russet” leather in 1903 which it used from then on. 

Turning to Meadows’ most recent work, US Military Holsters and Related Accoutrements, on pages viii – xi he provides an excellent explanation of the types of leather used to produce accoutrements, in particular “fair” leather.  While neither “fair” leather nor “russet” leather was dyed black, the primary difference between the two is that fair leather is not oiled, or only lightly so, while russet leather is “stuffed” or saturated with oil to finish and protect it. 

As the entire explanation is too long and detailed to include here, suffice it to say that the use of fair leather was an effort to alleviate the staining to uniforms caused by the black dyed leather, and due to the opinion that it presented a better appearance and that it was easier to maintain.  Fair leather was finished without the use of dyes or preservatives – so a piece of tanned leather without the application of any color or oil, which resulted in a light colored accoutrement.  After some eighteen years of trial and two years of production, the objections to fair leather seem to center on two points – first, the leather did not retain a presentable appearance after being used in the field.  And second, because it was not oiled, or had very little oil applied to it, it was more susceptible to absorbing water than black dyed leather.  The saturation from rain and then drying to which a fair leather accoutrement was subjected to in the field resulted in a hardening of the leather and at times, caused the surface of the leather to craze.  The Ordnance Department’s response acknowledged these faults, noted that the absence of oil caused both problems, and agreed that the application of oil as a maintenance procedure would resolve the problems, but pointed out that “such treatment will darken the color [to a medium brown] and deprive the leather of its non-soiling advantage”.      

Returning to this holster, it was definitely not dyed black at any time, and it survives today with a somewhat darkened brown color.  The leather surface is crazed and the leather is stiffer than what is encountered with a black dyed holster.  Having the benefit of Meadow’s works and viewing this holster in the context of the historical record which documents the experience with fair leather, I’m left to believe this holster was manufactured of fair leather, not russet leather, between 1898 and 1902.  Unfortunately, the Rock Island records do not include any specific mention of the production of US Marine Corps holsters. 

While obviously issued and subjected to use, this holster is a very solid specimen, having survived in nice condition, with solid stitching, all of the seams intact, and all of the components, to include the plug, are present.  The body is solid and full form with no weak points.  The embossed “USMC” in the oval is very legible.  The “Rock Island Arsenal” maker’s stamp is mostly legible and the inspector’s initials, “E.H.S.” for E. H. Schmitten, are present on the flap and fully legible. The piece worker's initials are legible on the tip of the flap where they are normally found.  The leather surfaces on the body, flap and belt loop have all experienced some crazing which is consistent with the field reports regarding the character of fair leather.  The leather has a stiff feel to it – again, a character of fair leather which has been used in the field, however the leather is still pliable and will accommodate a revolver without compromising the integrity of the holster.  Despite the crazing that is present, the entire holster still retains an attractive shiny surface and it presents very well.  

Certainly one of the rarest US Marine Corps holsters in existence, this unique piece will be a significant addition to any collection.  (0113)  $1500





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