A Fine Gaylord Civil War Contract Colt Dragoon Holster
- Product Code: ALKH-1348
- Availability: In Stock
When the Colt Model 1848 Dragoon percussion revolver was adopted for general issue by the US Ordnance Department, the handguns currently in military service were primarily large, single shot “horse pistols” that were carried in pommel holsters, not in a belt holster. One thousand Colt Walker revolvers had been purchased during the Mexican American War, and like the single shot pistols in use, these new 4 pound 9 ounce revolvers were also carried in pommel holsters. The new Dragoon was slightly lighter than the previous Walker, weighing in at 4 pounds, 2 ounces. It was also slightly smaller and less bulky than its predecessor. However, in the view of the Ordnance Department, it was still too large, heavy and awkward to be carried in anything but pommel holsters. In fact, this was why the Ordnance Department referred to the Dragoons as “holster pistols”, while the later, smaller framed Colts like the M1851 Navy and M1860 Army were referred to as “belt” revolvers. Between June of 1858 and December of 1853, the Ordnance Department purchased some 6,988 Colt Dragoon pattern revolvers. They were issues to both the US Cavalry and Dragoon regiments, as well as to some of the various states under the Militia Act of 1808.
Despite the fact that the US Ordnance Department did not begin to authorize belt holsters for the carry of revolvers until after the adoption of the M1851 Navy revolver in 1855, the men in service had already adopted the practice of belt carry for their revolvers as a matter of course. In his excellent history of the subject: U.S. Military Holsters and Pistol Cartridge Boxes, Edward Scott Meadows reprints a portion of an October 1, 1853 dated report from San Antonio that reads in part:
“Cases for Colt’s Revolver Pistols. It is not safe to carry the pistol in the holster, and the practice is universal of wearing it in a leather case attached to the sword, or waist belt. It gives the soldier a feeling of security to carry this arm about his person so that he cannot be separated from it. The leather cases now used are made, and often indifferently, at the posts. They should be furnished with the pistols.”
Despite the fact that men in service in the west were already acquiring belt holsters for their Dragoon pistols privately, the US Ordnance Department would not order any belt holsters for revolvers until 1856, and these were for the smaller M1851 Navy Revolvers. At this time some 3,381 belt holsters were ordered for the new Colt revolvers. No additional belt holsters would be contracted for until 1861. Between 1857 and 1860, an additional 10,736 “pairs of holsters for Colts revolvers”would be ordered, continuing the official practice of carrying the larger Dragoon revolvers in pommel holsters. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Ordnance Department officially moved to the use of belt holsters for revolvers, and for the first time began to acquire holsters for Dragoon revolvers on contract. Between 1861 and 1866 some 328,833 belt holsters were contracted for by the Ordnance Department, although there is no breakdown that I am aware of to which models and types these were. Additionally, between 1860 and 1866 some 208,371 complete sets of cavalry accouterments were also contracted for, which includes revolver holsters as well.
The early production revolver holsters tended to be more form fitting than later production holsters, which meant that they could not be used interchangeably between models, in some instances, even from the same maker. This meant that a different holster was being purchased for the M1851 Navy and the M1860 Army, not to mention the Remington Army and all of the secondary revolvers like Starrs, Savages, Joslyns, Pettengills, etc., just to name a few. By 1863, a more universal holster had been adopted for general use that would fit most of the standard issue revolvers like the Colt and Remington Army interchangeably. However, the large frame Dragoon still required a special holster.
In addition to the nearly 7,000 Dragoon revolvers purchased between 1848 and 1853, the Ordnance Department acquired some 30,700 additional Dragoon revolvers between July 1861 and April 1862. While this paled in comparison to the 127,157 Colt M1860 Army Revolvers or the 115,557 Remington Army Revolvers purchased during the war, it still meant that nearly 38,000 Colt Dragoon revolvers were in need of holsters. As such, it can be reasonably assumed that at least that number of belt holsters were acquired during the war and based upon extant examples it is clear that some of these holsters were being delivered during the 1863-1865 period, as they include design modifications that were not adopted until 1863.
Offered here is a FINE condition example of an Emerson Gaylord contract belt holster for a Colt Dragoon Revolver that was produced during the 1863-1865 period. Based upon US Ordnance Department acquisition figures, the Colt Dragoon represented less than 15% of the revolvers in service during the American Civil War, thus the belt holsters likely represent a similarly small fraction of the holsters purchased; roughly 1 in 7 holsters was for a Colt Dragoon revolver. This one was produced by Emerson Gaylord company of Chicopee, MA. The rear belt loop of the holster is clearly stamped in three lines:
The Emerson Gaylord had entered into the military accouterments business in 1841 in partnership with N.P. Ames of the famous Ames Manufacturing Company. Initially Gaylord produced the sword scabbards for Ames contract edged weapons, as well as harnesses. In 1856, Gaylord purchased the leather and accouterments making part of the Ames business, establishing the Emerson Gaylord Company. Over the next decade the firm would become the premier Ordnance Department accouterment contractors. According to the research published in American Military Goods Dealers and Makers by Bazelon & McGuinn, between 1862 and 1865 the firm would deliver “33,000 carbine cartridge boxes, 20,000 saber belts & plates, 5,000 pistol cartridge boxes, 11,000 NCO belts & plates, 17,000 pistol holsters, 20,000 cavalry accouterment sets, 22,000 carbine slings, 17,000 slings & swivels, 27,000 NCO belts, 9,600 sword knots, 23,000 Blakeslee cartridge boxes, 12,000 Mann’s Cartridge Boxes, 5,000 Hoffman Bayonets, 5,000 cavalry cartridge boxes & slings, and 5,000 Stewart’s attachments.” Obviously, the firm was a manufacturing power house.
The dragoon holster was produced using the standard four-piece construction process used on most Civil War US contract holsters. The four major pieces were the holster body, the closure flap, the belt loop and the toe plug. A fifth small piece was the closure tab. The body was folded and sewn along a single long seam on the outer edge, with the closure flap sewn to the rear of the body. The toe plug was sewn into the bottom of the holster body. The belt loop was sewn onto the rear of the body and reinforced with three copper rivets. The closure tab was riveted to the closure flap and reinforced with stitching. In his book, Meadows suggests that at most only a few thousand of the Gaylord Dragoon holsters were produced. Although the actual production figures are not known, based upon extant examples, the production was rather limited. Meadows additionally postulates that some of these Dragoon sized holsters may have been used for other, non-standard secondary martial revolvers, like the M1858 Starr Double Action revolver, which would not fit in the standard Colt/Remington “army sized” holster.
As noted, the Gaylord Contract Dragoon Revolver Holster offered here is in FINE condition. The holster retains the large majority of its original finish, with only some light to moderate surface crazing and some small areas of flaked finish loss. The holster retains the original toe plug, a piece that is often missing from Civil War period holsters, as well as the original closure tab. The tab is secured by a single copper rivet with an arced section of reinforcing stitching over the top. This stitching pattern indicates production between 1863-1865, as prior to 1863 this reinforcement stitching was in a straight line. The original belt loop is present on the rear of the holster, secured by the three original copper rivets and two lines of arched reinforcement stitching. As noted, the belt loop is clearly stamped with the Gaylord maker’s mark. All of the stitching remains tight and secure, with no noticeable thread loss. The leather remains supple and completely usable, with the holster ready to be displayed with a revolver or added to a set of cavalry accouterments for mounting on a mannequin.
Overall this is a really wonderful condition example of a very scarce Gaylord marked Civil War contract holster for the Colt Dragoon revolver. These holsters rarely appear for sale and when they do, they are even more rarely in this fine, complete and usable condition. This would be a fantastic addition to your collection of Civil War cavalry accouterments or to add to the display of your martial Colt Dragoon revolver. A few years ago, a well-marked Dragoon holster like this, with no restoration or repairs, would have easily been a $1,500 to $2,000 holster. I think this one is priced very competitively and I’m sure you will be proud to add it to your collection.