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US ARMY RUSSET LEATHER .38 CALIBER DOUBLE-ACTION ARMY REVOLVER HOLSTERS – EXCELLENT EARLY PRODUCTION SPECIMENS: A nice offering of four early 20TH Century US Army Third, Fourth and Fifth Type .38 Caliber Double Action Revolver Holsters as described in US Military Holsters and Pistol Cartridge Boxes, Meadows, pages 160-165, and in his subsequent US Military Holsters and Related Accoutrements on pages 174-179.  Produced to carry any of the .38 Caliber Double Action Pistols in service at the time, this holster, in black leather, had seen extensive service during the Spanish American War, and the arsenals continued to produce them when the army switched to fair or russet leather in 1902. 

These four holsters, as they present together, make for a very nice research grouping which tell much of the story of the early post-1902 production of these holsters.  They incorporate many of the features which were added to the basic pattern and were considered necessary enough to apply as a retrofit to holsters produced in previous years.  A good example is the presence of the leg tie down thong ring mounted in the plug of all four of these holsters, even though it wasn’t adopted until 1904.   

The holsters offered below as No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 feature the larger belt loop which was introduced in 1904 to allow the holster to slide over the cartridge pockets on the Model 1903 Mills Pocketed Pistol Cartridge Belt, even though one holster was produced in 1903 and another in 1904.  Again, an example of how the arsenal continued to apply the newer features to previously manufactured holsters.     

These holsters are far from common, especially that one listed as “No. 1” which is quite rare, and when found often show heavy use in service and the leather is heavily oil soaked.  These four specimens are in excellent condition with very legible arsenal and inspector stamps, and would be very difficult to upgrade.   

I have been fortunate enough to acquire the specimens offered below, and each is described separately with accompanying photographs.

 

NO. 1   US ARMY RUSSET LEATHER .38 CALIBER DOUBLE-ACTION ARMY REVOLVER HOLSTER, THIRD TYPE – RARE SPECIMEN FROM THE FIRST YEAR OF PRODUCTION:  This is a rare specimen from the last year of production of the “fair leather” holsters, identified by the “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp still being applied to the holster flap.  The use of fair leather and the arsenal stamp on the flap, coupled with the crescent of stitching on the body at the point of the trigger guard and the presence of the tie down ring on the toe plug, identifies this holster as one of those now rare examples produced in 1902.  

As Meadows explains on pages viii – xi of his US Military Holsters and Related Accoutrements, in 1898, Rock Island began producing a significant quantity of the Model 1892 .38 Caliber Revolver Holsters in “fair” leather, rather than black leather.  No additional fair leather holsters were produced after 1902, instead the arsenal switched to “russet” leather in 1903 which it used from then on.  Meadows 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”.    

This holster, produced in 1902, was one of the last of the fair leather holsters manufactured at Rock Island Arsenal.  The crazing to the belt loop and the uneven color of the body are both the result of the leather not being treated with oil at the time of manufacture.  Rather in its un-oiled state, the holster was issued for use in the field and only after it had been subjected to the elements, was it oiled at the unit level.  By that time, the oil did not absorb into the leather evenly, and the belt loop had begun to harden due to having been wetted and dried.  The leather is not oil soaked, nor is hardened, retaining a supple feel, but the coloration and the wear to the top fold of the belt loop are both evidence of the nature of fair leather, and the reason why the subsequent accoutrements, including holsters, were manufactured from russet leather. 

A very good specimen, this holster has survived in very respectable condition, with solid stitching, all of the seams intact, and all of the components, to include the plug and tie down ring, are present.  The body is solid and full form with no weak points.  The embossed “US” in the oval on the front of the holster body is very legible.  The “Rock Island Arsenal” maker’s stamp and the inspector’s initials “E.H.S.” on the flap has faded somewhat from use, but it is still legible in proper light.  The flap is also stamped with the piece worker’s initials at the end of the flap below the closing finial hole.  The leather surface on the body and the flap is overall very smooth and bright with minimal crazing low on the reverse of the body.  The top fold of the belt loop where it would have ridden against the cartridge belt shows the most wear with some crazing and flaking, but the leather is still strong without any weak points.  

This is a very rare specimen from the last year of production of fair leather holsters, and one which would be very difficult to replace, much less upgrade.  (0206)  $350

 

NO. 2  US ARMY RUSSET LEATHER .38 CALIBER DOUBLE-ACTION ARMY REVOLVER HOLSTER, FOURTH TYPE – DATED 1903 – ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL:   This is a specimen from the first year of production of the “russet leather” holsters, identified by the “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp and production date “1903” applied to the reverse of the holster belt loop.    

An excellent specimen, this attractive holster has survived in very respectable condition, with solid stitching, all of the seams intact, and all of the components, to include the plug and tie down ring, are present.  The body is solid and full form with no weak points.  The embossed “US” in the oval on the front of the holster body is legible.  The “Rock Island Arsenal” maker’s stamp, the date, and the inspector’s initials “H.E.K.” on the belt loop is fully legible.  The flap is also stamped with the piece worker’s initials at the end of the flap below the closing finial hole.  The leather surface on the body and the flap is overall very smooth and bright, retaining a light caramel color with no crazing or flaking.    

This is a very nice specimen from the first year of production russet leather holsters, and one which would be very difficult to upgrade.  (0207)  $295

 

NO. 3   US ARMY RUSSET LEATHER .38 CALIBER DOUBLE-ACTION ARMY REVOLVER HOLSTER, FOURTH TYPE – DATED 1904 – ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL:   This is a specimen from the second year of production of the “russet leather” holsters, identified by the “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp and production date “1904” applied to the reverse of the holster belt loop.     

An excellent specimen, this attractive holster has survived in very respectable condition, with solid stitching, all of the seams intact, and all of the components, to include the plug and tie down ring, are present.  The body is solid and full form with no weak points.  The embossed “US” in the oval on the front of the holster body is legible.  The “Rock Island Arsenal” maker’s stamp, the date, and the inspector’s initials “T.C.” on the belt loop is fully legible.  The flap is also stamped with the piece worker’s initials at the end of the flap below the closing finial hole.  The leather surface on the body and the flap is overall very smooth and bright, retaining a notably light caramel color with no crazing or flaking.  The original full length elk hide tie down thong is also present, a definite added value.    

This is a very nice specimen from the second year of production russet leather holsters, and one which would be very difficult to upgrade.  (0208)  $275

 

NO. 4   US ARMY RUSSET LEATHER .38 CALIBER DOUBLE-ACTION ARMY REVOLVER HOLSTER, FIFTH TYPE – DATED 1909 – ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL:   The last pattern of this series, this holster featured a more pronounced curve in the body of the holster.  This specimen from the third year of production of these Fifth Type holsters, identified by the four line “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp and production date “1909” applied to the reverse of the holster belt loop.     

An excellent specimen, this attractive holster presents in "like new" unissued condition.  The deep mahogany color results from the original arsenal applied "stuffed russet leather" finish, resulting from saturating, or "stuffing" the leather with oil in order to soften and preserve it.  The arsenal method did not result in weakened leather which would not keep its shape and was softened to the point of tearing such as is experienced with many home remedy leather treatments used through the years.  Rather, those accoutrements which have retained the stuffed leather finish have survived in the excellent condition which this holster displays.  The down side of stuffed leather was that due to the amount of oil, in use it was prone to stain the soldiers' uniforms.  To combat this staining, the troops were directed to soak the accoutrements in naphtha and other treatments which leeched out the oil, and in turn made the leather more susceptible to aging and wear.  How or why this holster escaped the naphtha treatment is anyone's guess, but that it did provides an nearly pristine example of what these holsters looked like when newly manufactured and issued. 

In keeping with not having been issued, the holster has survived with solid stitching, all of the seams intact, and all of the components, to include the plug and tie down ring, present and intact.  The body is solid and full form with no weak points.  The embossed “US” in the oval on the front of the holster body is very distinct.  The “Rock Island Arsenal” maker’s stamp, the date, and the inspector’s initials “T.C.C.” on the belt loop is fully legible and all the characters are distinct.  The leather surface on the body and the flap is overall very smooth and bright, retaining an even color with no crazing or flaking.  The original full length elk hide tie down thong and the elk hide belt loop thong are both present - a definite added value.    

This is an excellent specimen of the last pattern of these russet leather holsters, and one which would be very difficult to upgrade.  (0911)  $275

 
 
 
 
 

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