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Berns-Martin (R)

Since 1932, appointed HMS 1958

Registered Trademark, Red Nichols

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In the first of the Bond films late in 1962, 'M' at left demands that his agent James Bond hand over his Beretta .25 automatic in exchange for a Walther .32 automatic with Berns-Martin shoulder holster.  The holster "prop" of the film is not that holster.  At right in the image is the almost as mythical Major Boothroyd, who is based on Ian Fleming's correspondent expert Geoffrey Boothroyd who recommended the Berns-Martin 'Triple Draw" based on the writings of Col. Charles Askins.

'M', of course, was Fleming himself who wrote privately about assigning Bond his equipment and missions.  Even their oak panelled offices mimicked each other's.

Read more about Ian Fleming and Berns-Martin (and James Bond's pistols) in Red Nichols privately published "Holstory -- Gunleather of the 20th Century" available by reaching the site below:



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Click on the book image above to reach Red Nichols' sales site for "Holstory".

The very first pair of Berns-Martin's "Speed" holsters were for 20th century writer and adventurer Elmer Keith.  The holster and belt set is unique from all others by the holsters being made without belt loops and instead being stitched to the belt itself.  Two rows of cartridge loops are in two different calibers:  the upper row being .44/45 and the lower being .38/357; Elmer carried the same large S&W frame revolvers in either of the two calibers depending on what Arctic game he was hunting.

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Berns-Martin was founded by John Berns and Julius Martin in 1932 to capitalize on their new holster invented with famed American outdoorsman/writer Elmer Keith.  The "Speed" holster was based on the E.E. Clark patent and the earliest of the Berns-Martin "Speed" holsters are marked with the Clark patent only; then with both the Clark patent and the later Berns patent that issued 1935.  It came about when Berns was stationed in Alaska by the Navy where Keith was hunting in 1930.

The marque rocketed to fame when celebrated author Ian Fleming (a principal character in today's film 'Operation Mincemeat') had his alter ego 'M' issue the Berns-Martin holster to his fictional spy named James Bond.  In its first appearance in the 1958 book "Dr. No" the Berns-Martin in question was a shoulder holster intended for the then-new S&W 'Centennial' revolver for Bond in .38 Special, called the 'Triple Draw'; both of which were issued to Bond in that book title.

Fleming's combining the shoulder holster for the Centennial with Bond's silenced Walther PPK in .32 ACP went unnoticed until the book was adapted to the screen as 1962's "Dr. No".  That film scene and a series of articles by him published in the very same year created much approbation for Fleming because the Berns-Martin holster was not for the semi-automatic pistol that was the Walther.  Fleming immediately changed the Berns-Martin holster issued to Bond into an inside waistband model which Berns-Martin indeed made for the Walther, for his the next book title that was "Goldfinger", and so it remained for the rest of the Bond book series.

Originally Julius (Jack) Martin, who with John Berns was a Navy rifleman who competed internationally after WW1, made the Speed holsters aboard his ship in NYC harbor from 1932; he was a harness maker.  On these holsters the name 'Berns-Martin' is marked in small letters along with either one (Clark's) or two (Berns' added) patent numbers.  In the mid-1930s Jack left the Navy at the time of his father's death in Calhoun City Mississippi and Berns-Martin was based there.  The company's operations were suspended for WWII and it reopened in 1950 with the famous "Berns-Martin Calhoun City" marking.

In 1962 Jack Martin put the company on the market and in 1963 it was acquired by a wealthy granite magnate in 1963 on the strength of Berns-Martin's new-found fame in "Dr. No" and the company was moved to Elberton Georgia where the granite operations were based.  The marking on the holster changed to reflect the new location in Elberton and these are less well made. 

The marque was maintained with the USPTO by successor Bianchi Holster of California , which company later allowed the mark's registration to lapse.  It is now owned by author Red Nichols who wrote, produced and published the textbook "Holstory - Gunleather of the 20th Century" (visit

It was in 1964 that Playboy magazine published, posthumously for Fleming died earlier in that very year, its interview with Ian Fleming that appeared not long after 1962's revelation to the public that the Berns-Martin "Triple Draw" shoulder holster was unsuited to the Walther .32 automatic of 'Dr. No'.  In that interview that chap was roughly rebuffed by Fleming when he suggested that famed maker Chic Gaylord's horizontal shoulder holster, which Chic invented for NASA's space program, should be considered for Bond instead.  Fleming refused.

Soon after the interview appeared, Gaylord's NYC operation was closed after the appearance of a CIA front for lethal weapons supplier called Seventrees, in 1966; which in turn was shut down by Congress' Church Committee in 1975.  Heir apparent to the horsehide gunleather by Seventrees :  DeSantis Gunhide also of NYC that was founded specifically to fill the FBI's orders that Seventrees could no longer supply; at the request of FBI SAC Bill Vanderpool.  Seventrees' owner/operator was a CIA killer but Gene DeSantis is but a simple NYC holster maker -- since 1972!

Click on the image above to continue to the DeSantis Holsters site.

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Above is 1930s, below is 1950s.

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Then below, Evaluators Ltd was a significant distributor of Berns-Martins for the U.S. military in the 1950s and '60s, and was operated by a retired Marines General and his wife.

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Below is the 1960s Berns-Martin in its new quarters that were post-Mississippi.

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Red Nichols, who was John Bianchi's designer 1970-1990 and an independent designer to two dozen more gunleather companies 1990-2000, created ranges of holsters for his Red Nichols Holster; then for his new Berns-Martin holster range 2010-2020.  At which point he retired as a designer-maker and focused on gunleather history research that resulted in his book "Holstory -- Gunleather of the Twentieth Century" (2018) now in its Second Edition (2020).  The original Berns-Martin company and its products are prominently featured in both editions with more information in the Second.  It is amply illustrated with examples of the Berns-Martins in full color; from Elmer Keith's of 1930 through to successor Bianchi Holster's versions; until 1990 when revolvers were displaced by semi-automatics.

Today one can still acquire Red Nichols' designs bearing his Berns-Martin trademark at Vintage Gun Leather that largely operates on eBay.  Red's designs are not the vintage designs of Jack Martin and John Berns and Elmer Keith; which were entirely hand sewn because Martin was a harness maker.  Their vintage designs are unsuited to modern demands for retention.

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Above is the 21st century version of the Berns-Martin trademark, which name alone is registered to Red Nichols for gunleather including holsters.


The vintage designs of Berns-Martin are unsuited to modern-day use.  Want one anyway?  They are readily located on internet auction sites.  At right:  the 'Speed' holster and its mandatory gunbelt by Berns-Martin.

The original Berns-Martin gunleather designs have not been commercially made since Jack Martin's death in 1968.  The trademark then passed to knife maker Blackie Collins who sold it on to John Bianchi in 1974.  Neither Collins nor Bianchi made the original designs that were the Speed holster, the Lightning and Triple Draw shoulder holsters, the Raider range holster, and the Buscadero belt for the Speed holster.  Instead, John Bianchi's company made vastly improved versions suited to the marketplace that were, respectively, the Model 27 'Break Front' police uniform holster, the Model 9R and 9R-1 and 9R-2 'Special Agent' shoulder holsters, the Model 2AL 'Protector' holster, and the Model 1898 'Texan' gunbelt.  Red Nichols was a part of all these 1970s projects for Bianchi Holster.

As a harness maker, Martin with his work partner Criswell used only 'harness' leather that is not at all like the 'skirting' leather that was used for a Myres; harness leather is 'stuffed' with oils and waxes to repel the weather and horse sweat, and to add tensile strength.

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At left, Berns-Martin's field holster; at right, Shirley Eaton 'painted to death in gold'.

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Above and below, the Calhoun City marked holsters are the better-made vs the later Elbertons.

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Red did not literally cut his teeth on gunleather but darned near, earning his fascination with it during the 1950s boom in gunleather for 'junior cowboys and cowgirls' brought on by the appearance of television and the earliest westerns aimed at us young 'uns including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and The Lone Ranger.

In that era it was the gunleather that was the value- added under these famed tv cowboys' names, not the capguns themselves which were very cheap then.

A shift into 1960's London for Red brought on a fascination shared by all teen boys of that era with James Bond -- the Beatles and Red lived in the same neighborhood on St. George's Hill in Weybridge, Surrey -- and a return to America in 1966 led him to a chance encounter with famed Chic Gaylord of NYC's alternate universe of gunleather designs via Chic's book ''A Handgunner's Guide'.  A job working in 1970 for John Bianchi was the realization of a dream for the 20-year-old and under John's training and supervision he advanced to become the company's principal designer after completing two years of his own LEO training in Police Science and service as a uniformed security guard for the Berkeley riots.

The fascination didn't end with the sale to outsiders of John's company 1988 and at that point Red fired up Nichols Innovation that created new gunleather designs for two dozen gunleather companies 'round the world including the likes of DeSantis and Galco.  In 2000 he retired from Nichols Innovation to Australia to work with a local maker there, and in 2010 began his first venture as a maker in his own right; then retired as a designer/maker in 2020 to focus on gunleather research that he named 'holstory'; he published his first book on the topic in 2018.  RED NICHOLS HOLSTERS

Above a press notice in an early 2023 'American handgunner' article that includes a Red Nichols 'Berns-Martin' holster for its editor.  At right, the black version of the pair.

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Above Red Nichols' gunleather range (above) was distinct from his Berns-Martin range (below) and of different reatures and leathers.

Above a Red Nichols "Berns-Martin" horizontal shoulder holster in horsehide and trimmed in ostrich leg (harness in ostrich leg and kangaroo lining) was intended for a recent Bond film but not adopted by the films' producers.

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