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Classic Leather Holsters For Men of Substance

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Photo by owner/shooter Dan Schuitema

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This open-topped holster pattern, commonly known as the “Slim Jim,” was a pure product of the frontier west.

The holster came in two versions, but the popularity of the open-topped over the full-flapped holster came about as a result of differences in conditions and usage between the civilized east and the frontier west. Guns of this era were susceptible to moisture damage
due to the percussion ignition of firing.

Thanks to the hundreds of miners living in the wild, sometimes lawless, mining towns in California, Montana and Colorado, the holster was adapted for those who needed ready access to their firearms. The open-topped design became the most popular, though it didn’t protect the gun from moisture.

Being able to pull your gun more quickly than the other guy was, as you might imagine, much more important than covering the entire upper body of the gun to keep it dry. Holsters were designed with a variation that added curves to the design which was intended to shroud the revolver’s cylinder and percussion caps which helped keep it dry but still allowed ready access to the grip and trigger. The percussion cap revolver was the norm until well into the 1860′s.

The “California/Slim Jim” design was the first holster to incorporate decorative elements. Elaborate, hand-carved detailing began appearing on holsters which featured animals, patriotic themes and fern patterns. Those embellishments are generally understood to have come from the Mexican influence.

By the mid 1860′s, floral and border motifs were common, and later still many holster designs began featuring a simple stamped or rolled border with a single design element in the corner such as a rosette. The “California/Slim Jim” pattern started appearing more eastward around this time, becoming popular not only in the mining camps of the Rocky Mountains but also throughout the Southwest and Great Plains. Eventually during the Civil War it appeared as far east as Kansas and Missouri. By the 1870′s, the “California/Slim Jim” holster began being replaced by the new “Mexican Loop” holster designs that came out with the introduction of the metal cartridge and cartridge belts.