Philip J. Noel (1874-1950) was a man of many interests. After Noel was appointed a manager for the Kentucky Central Life and Accident Insurance Company in 1903, he and wife Blanche had settled in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Here, Noel indulged several passions, including photography, philanthropy, poetry, disreputable women (not all of his interests were savory) and strike-it-rich investment schemes courtesy of the many fly-by-night real estate, oil and mining companies that spread across the country in the early 20th century.
A Spanish-American War veteran, Noel was also a hunter and inventor, pursuits that merged well with two more interests: dogs and firearms. He kept up a correspondence with an Illinois kennel operator to whom he sent pups for training as bird dogs. When one of them died of distemper, Noel was irate and demanded a photograph of its body. The death of a second left the hapless trainer defending himself against charges of “murder” in a “diseased kennel.”
Noel tinkered around with various inventions, including a type of toothbrush, and even secured patents for some of them. One patent was for a “pocket pistol holster,” a side draw holster that fit in a hip or overcoat pocket. Made without straps or belts, it was designed to accommodate a revolver “with hammer cocked or safety catch off, if desired.” Noel promoted it as the ideal accessory not just for sportsmen but for “Secret Service and Army men” and anyone else who needed to draw a gun from any position, “without the movement of the body, within a fraction of a second.”
Even before he was born, Noel’s first (and, as it turned out, only child) was nicknamed “Tumps.” When Tumps grew to manhood and entered World War II service, one of his father’s requests was to procure two Luger pistols for his collection. But Tumps was a mere nine years old when his father first introduced him to gun ownership. At Christmas 1923, the boy received greetings from none other than Santa Claus, but Saint Nick’s letter brooked no arguments about the responsibilities that came with the accompanying gift. Dear Tumpie, it read:
I have left you this little shot gun with the understanding that you shall never point it loaded or unloaded at any person or persons and that you will not let other boys handle or play with it, or snap the triggers and you must not make a practice of snapping the triggers yourself unless you are with your Daddy and he is learning you how to shoot. After Christmas week you must put it in your gun case and put it away so that other boys will not bother you about it.
If you disobey these orders about this I have instructed your Daddy to put your gun away and keep it for you until you become 16 years of age. Please follow these instructions and if you do you can handle the gun all you want to.
Philip J. Noel’s papers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. A finding aid can be downloaded here. For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.