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Chase Holland arrived in San Angelo, Texas in 1918. He purchased a jewelry store from Mr. C C McBurnett and began his career as the proprietor of Holland's Jewelry. San Angelo was certainly a true western town at this time. The shop Chase purchased already had a history dating back to 1888 when San Angelo was a settlement of trading posts and saloons across the river from Fort Concho, one of the last Indian frontier cavalry posts. The first Holland's buckles and western jewelry designs were introduced in 1936. Following the Depression years, Chase wanted to give a gift of appreciation to some of the business associates and friends who helped him through this difficult time. He asked one of his craftsmen to design a miniature sterling silver western spur to be worn as a tie clip. One of the first spurs made was presented to President Franklin Roosevelt by Mr. Houston Harte, publisher of the local newspaper. This patented trademark piece was an expression of the western tradition for having "Won Your Spurs.”
When Chase realized the overwhelming acceptance of his western spur jewelry, he saw the opportunity to expand the western accessories into a line of unique and finely hand crafted products that captured the spirit of the West. Holland's employed skilled jewelers and tool and die makers to produce these products. Most of the steel dies were cut between 1936 and 1941, and many of the original tools and dies are still in use. Quality and function were high priorities of these first pieces, and this tradition continues to be essential in Holland's products. The first buckle design was the #100 series, cut in 1936. The dies for this buckle set, originally designed as a 3-piece set, (buckle, one keeper, and tip) were cut by John Doughtie, the craftsman who made the first "Spurclip." The Holland's buckle styles were given a unique numbering system to indicate the specific details of each buckle set. The first digit of the number indicates the basics series, and the second two digits indicate the optional additional detailing. Holland's buckles and spur jewelry have always been die struck, not cast. Die striking produces a much harder, more dense finished piece, allowing the metal to be polished to an exceptionally high finish, and able to maintain the original shape. Many of the shop tools and equipment were built by Walter Gailey who began working for Holland's in 1937, and continued until his death in 1962. "Walt" was an excellent mechanic and although he did not have a great deal of formal education, he had a natural ability with machinery and equipment. Holland's first die striking press was a hand-constructed drop-press, using a heavy steel weight which was dropped on the die set. The weight was hoisted to the top of the lift by a pulley system, using a heavy rope with a loop in it. The operator put his foot in the loop and used his body weight to lift the weight which dropped through a steel cylinder to the die set below. It took a large man to operate this first press! This process was originally performed in the alley behind the first shop located on Chadbourne Street in the downtown business district of San Angelo. Later, the company bought a hydraulic press and several punch presses which are still in use. Two of the early engravers and die makers were Pierre Dormier "The Frenchman," and Ferd Gowan "The German." There were countless pranks and jokes sprinkled into a busy workday in the shop. Dormier and Gowan worked across from each other, and their tools on the workbenches often were misplaced or even disappeared. The guys in the shop played up the friendly rivalry between the very large Frenchman and the much smaller German and referred to the line between the two workbenches as "The Maginot Line," in reference to the Franco-German rivalry. Ferd Gowan was a highly skilled craftsman and engraver, cutting many of the early die sets, including most of the small watch strap buckle sets. Ferd began teaching a young Gordon King to engrave in the late 1930s. Gordon was an Army Air Corps pilot during WWII but returned to San Angelo after the war and resumed his career at Holland's. Gordon was a true master engraver and continued to produce beautiful work for Holland's until his retirement in 1984. Gordon was well-known by many of Holland’s customers for his engraving skill. Gordon also cut many steel dies but preferred to do fine engraving on gold or silver. He produced numerous finely detailed rodeo trophy buckles, but was equally adept at ornate monograms and lettering on a sterling silver tea set. Gordon King was also one of Holland's unique craftsmen. He had immense talent and could produce an amazing amount of work. If there was a deadline for a special order, he would see that the work was completed as promised. Gordon worked for Holland's for over forty years. Few engravers ever reach the level of skill Gordon attained and he remains a legend in Holland's history. Fine hand-engraving has always been a trademark of Holland's buckles and western jewelry. Through the years, many unusual sterling silver engraved pieces have been produced for special orders. Some of these items include engraved ash trays overlaid with gold rodeo figures and spurs, sterling saddle trim and conchos, engraved boot toe and heel caps, money clips, and countless other novelty items. Over the years, Holland's has produced a myriad of custom designed specialty buckles and other western accessories. There are many beautiful rodeo trophy buckles in the hands of collectors or in the personal collections of rodeo cowboys. Many of these buckles have extremely detailed and ornate engraving. Holland's archives contain a photo of the buckles presented to the winners of the 1941 Boston Garden and Lightning C Ranch Rodeo. One of the buckles is for the winning cowgirl bronc rider with the figure of the cowgirl riding in a skirt. The cover of Holland's most recent catalogue shows an exceptionally ornate pair of sterling silver and 14k gold riding spurs. These massive spurs were produced in Holland's shop over a period from 1941 - 1945 and were worn by Gene Autry during the Ft. Worth Stock Show and Rodeo Parade in 1946. These unique spurs weigh approximately three and one-half pounds of sterling silver and gold and were too heavy for normal wear. Fortunately, they remain in Holland's possession and are used only for display. Holland's has received many offers from collectors to purchase these one-of-a-kind spurs, but they are not for sale. Holland's has sold many "Spur Clips" and buckle sets to Texas Rangers. In the late 1930s and 1940s, the Tex-Tan Company made hand-tooled leather belts for Holland's buckles, and had a copyright on the "Texas Ranger" style belt. This belt was a uniform width, usually 1 3/8" wide with the billets stitched onto the belt instead of the traditional tapered billets. It is believed that this combination of the Texas Ranger belt and Holland's buckle led to the common use of the term "Ranger Buckle" to describe a 4-piece buckle set. Holland's also made many distinctive Texas Ranger badges. These badges were produced from a Mexican one peso silver coin. The front of the coin was polished smooth, and then the coin was dapped to give it a slight curve. The back of the coin retained the detail of the Mexican Eagle holding a serpent. A five point star was then sawed out of the coin, leaving a border with the coins engraving still legible on the edge. The front was then engraved "Texas Rangers" along with the ranger’s division. This, no doubt, made one of the most distinctive peace officers' badges ever in use. In the early years of production, some buckles had overlays of 10k yellow gold. By the early 1940s, all use of 10k had been discontinued, and 14k gold was used. The gem-set buckles of this period were set predominantly with synthetic rubies; however, during the war years, these stones were sometimes not available. The war years catalogues stated that substitutions may be necessary if the synthetic rubies were not available. Substitute stones used were synthetic sapphire, genuine pink tourmaline, genuine spinel, or amethyst. By the late 1980s, all use of synthetic stones had been discontinued, and only genuine stones were in use. The following is a chronology of most of the buckle sets produced over the years: 1936 #100 series, dies cut by John Doughtie, 100W small 3-pc watch strap set also cut by Doughtie, 1939 #200 series, dies cut by Pierre Dormier (The Frenchman), #600 series, dies cut by Pierre Dormier, 1939 #1000 series, this large 1" 3-pc buckle set was known as the "Cowboy’s Buckle," 1940 #400 small 3-pc watch strap buckle set, 1941 #300 series, 3/4" 4-pc set completely open back. Buckle set made for only a few years, very few now in circulation, 1941 #500 small 3-pc watch strap buckle set, 1941 #900 series 4-pc 5/8" buckle set, solid buckle, 1941 #800 series, 3/4" 4-pc set, older pieces still in circulation and a few still produced today, 1949 #850 series, 5/8" 4-pc set, discontinued in the early 1950s, very few in circulation, 1989 #1100 large 3-pc buckle set, 1 1/2" designed by Brant Horner, 1993 #300 new style, 3-pc buckle set, 1" buckle designed by Brant Horner. Production of Holland's western products was at its peak in the late 1940s to early 1950s. Chase Holland, Jr returned to San Angelo after WWII and entered the family business. Chase’s brother-in-law, Bob Tindall, also came into the business along with many other young men returning to civilian life. Two of the original jewelers who were working at Holland's before the War, Kermit Parish and Hershel Hyatt, returned to Hollands after WWII and worked for many more years. Both of these men are retired in San Angelo and are a source of much historical information as well as many humorous stories of the old days in "The Shop." Chase Holland, Jr died in 1968, but his older son Chase III, graduated from Texas A and M in 1969 and entered the family business. Virginia Holland, wife of Chase, Jr, is still active in the business along with her two sons, Chase III and Bill. Today, Holland's custom designed buckles and western jewelry are produced by Brant Horner. His high skill level contributes to Holland’s desire to consistently create a finished piece of uncompromising quality and attention to detail. In 1995, Holland's won the coveted John Ben Shepherd Craftsmanship Award, given annually by the Texas Historical Foundation to honor outstanding craftsmanship for Texas products deemed important in preserving the state’s heritage. Over the years Holland's has made buckles or spur jewelry for nearly all of the U S Presidents, as well as many other politicians, celebrities, and executives. Although many notable personalities are owners of Holland’s western accessories, most are worn every day by people who have the "western spirit" in their blood and would not think of getting dressed each day without them. Holland's buckles and spurs have become cherished family keepsakes that are treasured just as much as "grandfather's."
Biography courtesy of Robert Brandes