April - May 2002:

Reproduction Holsters from Pacific Canvas and Leather
Pacific Canvas and Leather Holsters
Two of Pacific Canvas & Leather's popular offerings:  US M1912 holster on the left and Webley Mk. VI holster on the right
Leather rots.  No, this isn't the beginning of a long paean about the benefits of ballistic nylon, kydex or some other wonder fiber.  Rather it's a scientific fact.  Leather, like most other animal or plant based materials, will deteriorate and decompose.  This is in marked contrast to steel and iron which, with a minimum of care, can last for centuries, essentially unchanged.  This little foray into the physical properties of some of our favorite materials is not meant as mere diversion, but rather as an explanation as to one of the more interesting phenomena within "Crufflernomics" (the study of just why that beat up M1903 Springfield from 1923 is more valuable than that beautiful Spanish Mauser with the intact royal crest).  Specifically, we're talking about the disparity in value between original, fine condition military holsters and many of the pistols for which they are designed.  For example, an original issue, fine condition hard-shell holster for an 8mm Japanese Nambu pistol may be worth twice as much as the pistol itself.  Complete rigs including pistol, belt, holster and magazine pouches are often valued at more than twice the price of the pistol alone.  Why?  As we've said previously, leather deteriorates and decomposes over time, and this accounts for the relative scarcity and the commensurately high price of original holsters.

The expense and rarity of these holsters presents a quandary to many collectors.  While primarily interested in firearms, every collector likes to properly accessorize the firearms in his or her collection.  This explains the brisk trade in such accessories as bayonets and magazines.  Holsters, as have been seen, are somewhat more difficult to come by.  One option available to collectors looking to properly sheath their classic pistols has been the purchase of reproduction holsters.  However, many of the reproduction holsters available have been of dubious fit, quality or both.  Indeed, one CRUFFLER.COM staffer is the owner of a Radom pistol.  When he purchased a reproduction holster from a well known New Jersey based company, he found that the pistol would barely fit into the holster.  Additionally, when the pistol was inserted into the holster, he found the flap to be too short to properly fasten. When questioned, the seller assiduously assured him that all such holsters, whether they were reproductions or original military, were made small so that they could be "fitted" to the pistol in question.  The seller went on to explain how the pistol was to be wrapped in plastic, the holster soaked and then stretched over the gun for forty-eight hours.  This, as the reader is probably well aware, is at best, malarkey.  Military holsters came from the factory with a "drop in" fit, and any quality reproductions should evidence the same.  The problem is to find a reproduction evidencing the same care and quality as the original.  One company, Pacific Canvas and Leather, of Pico Rivera, California has been diligently working to address this demand.

Pacific Canvas and Leather is the successor in interest to Pacific Ordnance.  Pacific Ordnance had been a firearms importer for more than thirty years.  In order to provide a measure of insulation against increasingly draconian gun laws in California, Pacific Ordnance began to import a line of reproduction holsters and accessory products from the American Civil War, World War One and World War Two periods.  In March of 2002, the company changed ownership, got out of the firearms business entirely and opted to concentrate entirely on holsters and accessory products.  In keeping with this change of focus, the new owner, Mr. Bob Thomasser, changed the company's name to Pacific Canvas and Leather.

Mr. Thomasser's goal is to provide a quality reproduction holster, one that is virtually indistinguishable from the original, at a price that the vast majority of collectors and aficionados can afford.  Price is kept down by a combination of careful market research and quantity ordering.  Quality of the 100% cowhide holsters is ensured through a variety of methods.  To begin with, all holster designs are either reverse engineered from originals (in the case of foreign holster designs) or made according to original government design drawings (American military holsters).  Details include replicating the dye colors, markings and numbers of stitches per inch of the originals.

The designs, drawings and specifications are all made at Pacific Canvas and Leather's Pico Rivera facility.  Mr. Thomasser, who has a background in computer assisted design and computer numerically controlled machine programming, does much of the design work himself.  Once the design work is complete, the drawings and specifications (which include the thickness, type and color of leather to be used) are sent off to Pacific Canvas' partner factory in China.  Pacific Canvas' holsters are made in the same facility that has manufactured holsters for the Chinese military and government for the last sixty years.  A sample is furnished and reviewed by Mr. Thomasser and his staff (including checking the fit with the actual firearm for which the gun is intended), and upon approval, a purchase order is submitted and a shipment received.  The completed holsters are then ready for shipment to Pacific Canvas' customers.  Each holster is hand checked for fit and finish prior to shipment.  Despite this, Pacific Canvas maintains a no questions asked return and refund policy; dissatisfied customers are encouraged to send the product back for a refund or exchange.  (Customers are also encouraged to report any issues or discrepancies in an effort to ensure continual process and product improvement.)

Pacific Canvas' product line extends beyond holsters, however.  The company also sells rifle, carbine and pistol cases, M1907 slings with both US Army and US Marine Corps insignias, M1 Carbine slings, US style Sam Browne belts and buckles, reproduction military carry cases for the M1 Garand and Carbine, as well as fitted pistol presentation cases, reproduction flash hiders, muzzle brakes and scope mounts for the M14 and G3 rifles.

Given our staffer's previous holster experience, we were very interested in Pacific Canvas' holsters.  To this end we ordered a pair of holsters, one for the British service Webley Mk. VI .455 revolver, and a US Model 1912 holster for the M1911/M1911A1 .45 ACP pistols.   Both holsters were, as advertised, constructed from high quality cowhide with brass fittings.  In both cases, the leather was supple and nicely finished, comparing favorably with both modern commercial and original military holsters.  As important for reproduction holsters (and possibly more important for the re-enactors who comprise a large percentage of Pacific Canvas' customer base), the holsters were almost indistinguishable from both photographs and comparisons with the genuine article.

Webley Mk. VI Holster

PC&L Webley holster, open, showing fit of pistol
Pacific Canvas & Leather Webley holster with a 1918 Webley Mk. VI inside.  Note the fit of the pistol in the holster, which mirrors that of the original.  The holster is designed to offer maximum protection to the pistol while in service, hence the deep fit.  The cleaning rod is offered as a separate accessory by Pacific Canvas & Leather.
PC&L Webley holster, with pistol, flap secured
Pacific Canvas & Leather Webley holster with the same  1918 Webley Mk. VI inside, flap closed.  The flap closed easily with no undue effort, the opening to the rear cradling the butt of the pistol, indicating perfect dimensions and fit.  Also note details such as the decorative border around the edge of the flap and the securing strap.
PC&L Webley holster, obverse
Pacific Canvas & Leather Webley holster, rear view.  The marking on the belt loop is a PC&L item number - not a reproduction of any original marking.
The Webley Mk. VI holster fit our representative Webley Mk. VI perfectly.  This is especially worth noting as there was no single pattern supplied by the British government for the big revolvers during the early part of the Great War.  Officers were expected to furnish their own sidearms and accessories.  Our sample was made of smoothly finished brown eighth inch cowhide with thick white linen stitching.  The holster's construction is worth noting.  The pouch and flap consist of a single piece of leather that is folded back upon itself.  The fold produced a seamless front wall for the top of the revolver.  However, instead of stitching the bottom and rear together to form a welt, as found on many American holsters of the same period, the edges of the two sides are mated with a row of stitching down each side to form a much smoother and more attractive joint.  The disadvantage to this form of construction is that the bottom of the holster is left completely open.  The British, and consequently Pacific Canvas' reproduction's, solution was to sew a tightly fitted leather disk into the bottom of the holster.  This not only provides a measure of environmental protection, but also adds a measure of form to the holster.
A wide, wedge shaped belt loop is sewn to the back of the holster, the top and bottom of which are affixed by double rows of stitching.  The top row of stitching also retains a swivel loop and strap.  The swivel loop holds a brass D-ring in place which serves as an attachment point for the shoulder strap of a Sam Browne belt.  The strap is slotted at the far end, and fits over a brass stud on the holster's flap, serving as a closure device.  There is also a full length cleaning rod pocket sewn along the front edge of the holster.  In a nice, but purely aesthetic touch, the leather along the edges of the flap and strap is impressed with a single line border.

The retail price on the Webley holster is $34.90 plus shipping.  Overall, the Webley Mk. VI holster is nicely made and finished, and an excellent accessory for any of the .455 

Pacific Canvas & Leather Webley holster, rear seam and bottom.  Note stitching and alignment of seams.
Webleys that may be in one's collection.

US M1912 Holster

PC&L M1912 holster, closed
Pacific Canvas & Leather M1912 holster.
PC&L M1912 Holster, open with Star P inside
Pacific Canvas & Leather M1912 holster with a Star Model P inside.  We used the Star Model P because of its general similarity to the M1911, as well as the extended grip tang.   The holster closed easily over the tang with no hint of tightness or binding.
PC&L M1912 Holster, Rear
Pacific Canvas & Leather M1912 holster, rear view.  The marking on the belt loop is a PC&L item number - not a reproduction of any original marking.
The US M1912 is made based on the original Rock Island Arsenal design documents, and interestingly, is available in a left hand configuration as well as the traditional right handed model.  Our M1912 holster reproduction was made from cowhide and was very slightly rougher in finish than the Webley holster, and of a slightly more orange tint as well.  Both of these characteristics are in keeping with the originals.  Our reproduction fit a number of M1911 style .45's well.  Test guns included a US military M1911, a Colt Government Model made in 1933, a Para-Ordnance P14-45, an Argentine Sistema Colt Modelo 1927, and, surprisingly, both large frame Stars and Ballester Molinas.  (That the latter fit is surprising as they have extended grip tangs that might be expected to interfere with the flap.)  As with the Webley holster, the M1912's pouch is constructed of a single piece of leather that is folded back upon itself and stitched in the rear and bottom.  This however, is where the similarity ends.

Unlike the Webley holster, which was little more than a pouch with a flap and belt loop, the M1912 is composed of four distinct parts.  Specifically, the pouch, hanger assembly, tip, and strap assembly.  As noted above, the pouch is a one piece unit that is welt stitched in the rear and bottom.  There is a semicircular stitching pattern approximately one third of the way down the rear seam that serves as a stop, abutting against the trigger guard when the pistol is holstered, and positioning the pistol properly within the holster.  The flap is secured via a slotted eye that fits over a brass stud on the front of the pouch.  The flap is emblazoned with a large stamped US within an oval field.  As with the Webley holster, there is an attractive single line border along the edge of the flap and the upper and outer edge of the pouch.

At the bottom of the pouch, a semicircular double thickness of leather is sewn into the welt.  This tip serves to protect the pouch from abrading against hard surfaces.  Along the back of the holster there is a pattern of stitching shaped like an irregular lozenge.  In the center of this pattern are a pair of loops that retain a long strap.  The long strap is intended to be wrapped around the thigh and buckled in place as a tie down.  The lozenge shaped stitching retains an internal piece of smooth leather that covers the interior portions of the retaining loops.  This prevents the slide stop from hanging up on the loops, and any abrasion or damage that might result to the loops or the pistol as a result. 
M1912 Holster Interior
Pacific Canvas & Leather M1912 holster, interior view.  Note internal leather protector covering tie down loops.

At the rear top of the holster is the hanger assembly.  This is a double thickness of leather shaped like an unequal pentagon that is riveted to the top of the pouch with four brass rivets.  At it's top is a brass washerand post assembly which attaches a rounded piece of leather that holds a brass GI web belt attachment.  The holster/hanger is free to rotate back and forth, using the brass post as a pivot.  The idea is that the entire thing is suspended from the belt, while the holster is free to move back and forth with the wearer's right leg.

Pacific Canvas' retail price on the Model 1912 holster is $44.90 plus shipping.  As with the Webley holster, we found the quality of the M1912's fit and finish to be outstanding, and to compare well with originals.

In sum, we found the holsters from Pacific Canvas and Leather to be not only extremely faithful reproductions of the originals, but extremely well made and finished.  Indeed, these holsters were so well made and well finished that they not only compared well with the originals, but with commercial holsters from manufacturers such as Galco and Fobus.  Indeed, the quality is belied by their approximately $40.00 price tags.  But don't let the cost fool you, these holsters are first rate in every respect.  As such, the Pacific Canvas and Leather holsters represent a boon for both the collector and the re-enactor.  For serious re-enactors, authenticity of the uniform and equipment is paramount. However, it must weigh heavily on the re-enactor's mind to be rolling about in the mud while wearing a $200 - $400 holster.  With the Pacific Canvas and Leather product, this is no longer necessary, and a large part of the company's customer base are in fact re-enactors.  For the collector, the holsters offer the option of displaying a prized pistol in a historically correct context at a bargain price.  (Some of us might refer to this as "a judicious reallocation of crufflerbucks.)

Pacific Canvas and Leather is not content to rest on its laurels.  In addition to the holsters, flash hiders and mounts, the company is looking into making reproductions of classic knives and bayonets.  If these are as well done as the holsters, we're sure that aficionados of classic blades will be quite pleased.  In the meantime, dust off that Luger, Webley, Nambu or M1911, call Pacific Canvas and Leather (562-695-0297), and give those old war horses a proper home. 

And now, our Buy-O-Meter rating for the Pacific Canvas and Leather reproduction holsters:


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