N J Rabensburg "Brill" Holster Maker for the A W Brill Company from 1932 Forward and Proprietor from 1937 Until the Mid-1950s

arabensburg

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Hello, I am Neale Rabensburg, the grandson of saddle and holster maker, Newton Joseph Rabensburg, who was associated with the A. W. Brill Company in Austin, Texas for 23 years both as an employee from 1932 to 1937 and as the successor/owner from 1937 until about 1955. During his retirement, N. J. Rabensburg continued to make holsters, belts and other leather products at his home workshop located at 1903 N. Lamar in Austin. He died in 1961 at the age of 71.

N. J. Rabensburg probably made many (if not all) of the A. W. Brill holsters from 1932 forward. The “glory” years for the A. W. Brill Company (the Company) occurred with the arrival of N. J. Rabensburg in 1932. Arno W. Brill (Arno), the son of August W. Brill the founder, was an important part of that equation, at least until 1937. His out-reach program put the A. W. Brill Company on the map and provided a wholesale market for their goods and services to a number of towns within central Texas. The Austin Statesman newspaper dated May 18, 1924, describes Arno's position with the Company as “head road representative of the leather house. Young Mr. Brill (Arno) sells a large volume of leather goods to the retail trade in such towns as Brady, Mason, Junction, Llano, New Braunfels, Georgetown and Taylor”.

One vintage leather company notes the position of Arno W. Brill as “Traveling” according to the 1929 Austin City Directory. This description appears to be accurate with Arno continuing to work as a “traveling” salesman for the A. W. Brill Company.

The A. W. Brill Company (the Company) was established by August W. Brill in 1912. August took over the existing saddle and harness business of the Kluge Brothers, Henry and Charlie but not the W. T. Wroe and Sons Saddlery and Harness as reported by others. The Kluge brothers continued to work for the Company according to the Austin Statesman dated May 18, 1924. Henry served as an accountant, and Charlie reportedly made quality saddles. In 1924, the A. W. Brill Company was located at 218 E. 6th Street in downtown Austin.

An April 14, 1959 Austin American newspaper article written by the esteemed columnist, Antia Brewer (Brewer), chose to write about the leather career of Newton Joseph Rabensburg. Noted in that article was the following: “Since 1932 he has worked in Austin, taking over the business of the late A. W. Brill (August).” The newspaper photo of N. J. Rabensburg shows him tooling a belt with a 2nd belt and six holsters in view, which are tagged and ready for sale. The topmost holster, when enlarged, indicates the "Brill" name as maker. Two leftover leather holster banner straps within the Rabensburg Tool and Leather Collection (the Collection) bare the A. W. Brill mark. Much of the Collection has been donated in recent years to the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives in La Grange, Texas.

Important to note is the A. W. Brill maker stamp, which continues to remain in the Rabensburg Tool and Leather Collection. A donation of this important artifact, which measures 4 inches in length and cast in solid steel, is anticipated in the near future to the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, Texas. This A. W. Brill maker stamp was used by N. J. Rabensburg during his retirement in his home workshop in Austin from the mid-1950s until his death in 1961 and probably was used years earlier at the downtown E. 6th Street location for the A. W. Brill Company store starting in 1932.

N. J. Rabensburg became the "Successor to A. W. Brill" in a notice to the public published in the Austin American newspaper on June 27, 1937. The store location at that time was noted as 300 E. 6th (now Pecan). The notice read “N. J. Rabensburg. Successor to A. W. Brill. Saddles, Harness, Belts Scabbards, Repairing. Phone 6401. 300 East 6th St.”

From several written accounts, N. J. Rabensburg's leather career began first as a teenager in La Grange, Texas. When he was about 19 years of age, he moved to Dallas, then to Silver City, New Mexico and then for a two-year period to Price, Utah. He reportedly owned his business in Utah where he made saddles, chaps and other leather products. He returned to La Grange in 1915 at the age of 25 years and married the mayor’s daughter. That same year, he bought a partnership in an existing saddlery, which became known as Zwiener and Rabensburg with a town square location.

N. J. Rabensburg married Lillian Edna Speckels in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in La Grange, Texas on July 23, 1915. Lillian was the daughter of Henry W. Speckels, who was the Mayor of La Grange and Chief of the Volunteer Fire Department. In 1920, N. J. Rabensburg bought a saddlery business in Llano, Texas, which was located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country and about 150 miles to the west of La Grange.

N. J. Rabensburg served the Llano Town Council both as an Alderman and as Mayor. His tenure as Mayor, however, was cut short when he made the decision to accept a job offer with an option to purchase at the A. W. Brill Company in Austin, Texas. The year was 1932, and N. J. Rabensburg and his wife Lillian and their three sons, Aubrey, Walter and Newton, Jr. made this their final relocation. The family took residence on the crest of a hill at 1104 W 7th Street.

In the late 1930s or prior to World War II, N. J. Rabensburg built a new house on the side of hill fronting Shoal Creek Drive in Austin. Shoal Creek and Pease Park were across the street. Unfortunately, the front yard and a portion of the hill were removed by a new road during the early 1940s. The home address changed from Shoal Creek to 1903 N. Lamar. During his retirement, N. J. Rabensburg continued to make A. W. Brill holsters, belts and other leather products within his home workshop from the mid-1950s until his death in 1961.

Following their 1937 departure from the A. W. Brill Company, August W. Brill, as the former owner and operator, and his son Arno turned their attention to residential real estate development along the shores of Lake Travis to the northwest of Austin. The lake and dam were under construction during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The surface area of Lake Travis would eventually cover almost 30 square miles and would take years to fill. Two Arno Brill subdivisions were created in 1944 on Hudson Bend, which is located to the northeast of the present-day Lakeway home and resort community on Lake Travis.

My sister, Gayle Herring of Austin, and myself, however, are not only N. J. Rabensburg’s blood-related grandchildren, but we also watched our grandfather make holsters and belts in his home workshop. Many of the holsters, if not all, carried the A. W. Brill maker marks by evidence of the following:
1. The “Brill” maker stamp. This stamp still exists today and was used by N. J. Rabensburg in his home workshop and probably years earlier at the A. W. Brill Company store on E. 6th Street in downtown Austin.
2. Article and photo dated April 14, 1959 by Anita Brewer of the Austin American newspaper on the leather career of N. J. Rabensburg. The “Brill” maker mark is clearly visible on at least one of N. J. Rabensburg’s six holsters shown in the newspaper photo.
3. Two existing leather remnants within the N. J. Rabensburg Collection bear the “A. W. Brill” maker mark.

August W. Brill, Arno’s father, was head of the A. W. Brill Company and made his departure as well in 1937 and pursued, along with his son Arno, a new career in real estate residential development along the shores of Lake Traves. N. J. Rabensburg was the successor and owner of the A. W. Brill Company from on or before June 27, 1937 until his retirement during the mid-1950s. However, he continued to make holsters and belts and other leather products for his customers in his home workshop located at 1903 N. Lamar until his death in 1961.


IN SUMMARY

N. J. Rabensburg’s tenure at the A. W. Brill Company corresponds with the “glory” years at the Company. He was the recognized maker of the “Brill” holster and owner of the A. W. Brill Company by evidence of the April 14, 1959 article and photo by Anita Brewer of the Austin American newspaper. He held in his possession the A. W. Brill maker stamp, which continues to remain with the Rabensburg family. Also, two leftover leather banner straps held within the Rabensburg Collection bear the A. W. Brill maker mark.

By: A. Neale Rabensburg
 

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Moonpie

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arabensburg

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The Austin American newspaper dated June 27, 1937 gave notice to the public of N J Rabensburg as the "Successor" to A W Brill. August W Brill, the founder and owner, appears to have been in control at the time of the transition. Both father and son, August and Arno Brill turn their attention to residential real estate development along the shores of the forthcoming Lake Travis located northwest of Austin. The new lake and dam were under construction during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The Brill family has, thus, no involvement with the A W Brill Company or with the making or selling of leather products including the A W Brill holster from mid-1937 forward.

N J Rabensburg is now in charge of the A W Brill Company located at 300 E 6th Street in downtown Austin. He chooses to retain the A W Brill name for the Company after the transition in 1937 and also continues to use the A W Brill maker stamp for the A W Brill holster and other custom leather products until his death in 1961.

Submitted by A Neale Rabensburg
 

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