Francis Bannerman Son recordsCreation: 1855-1973
Francis Bannerman Son was a major purveyor of military goods to sportsmen and collectors in New York City over three generations. The Francis Bannerman Son records demonstrate the operation of a small family business and a lack of formal structure. They document Bannerman's purchase of military goods from state and federal arsenals and their resale to individuals, with other regular purchases of arms and military antiques made on buying trips to Europe. The bulk of the collection consists of over 143 bound volumes of order books and outbound letters, and correspondence of incoming letters containing customer orders and inquiries. This collection would be useful to researchers interested in the resale costs and designs of military goods, especially arms and uniforms, as well as family-run small business performance and operations.
- Creation: 1855-1973
- Francis Bannerman Son (Organization)
46 Linear Feet
Francis Bannerman Son was a major purveyor of military goods to sportsmen and collectors in New York City over three generations.
The firm was founded in 1865 by Francis Bannerman VI (1851-1918) and his wife Helen "Nellie" Boyce Bannerman (1852-1931) as an offshoot of his family's ship chandlery and military salvage business located near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. His father, Francis Bannerman V (circa 1820-1872), had first purchased military goods at scrap prices in the demobilization at the end of the Civil War. Francis VI began by selling potatoes and apples in season, along with hardware purchased at government auctions. By 1880, he was selling mostly government surplus arms and military supplies. Around 1890, Bannerman acquired the Spencer Arms Company, manufacturers of repeating shotguns. He moved his store to Manhattan in 1897, where it soon became noteworthy as a museum of modern and antique weaponry and military memorabilia. To store his vast quantities of arms and ammunition, Bannerman bought Pollepel Island in the Hudson River Highlands in 1900 and erected Bannerman's Island Arsenal and a summer residence, patterned after the castles of the family's native Scotland.
On January 1, 1917, Bannerman turned the business over to his sons Francis VII (1873-1946) and David (1875-1957) as the partnership of Francis Bannerman Sons. In 1958, David's son Charles S. Bannerman (1905-1976) incorporated the business and became president, but he was a relatively passive representative of the family interest, the day-to-day affairs being in the hands of career employees. The business was downsized and moved to Long Island the following year. Pollepel Island was sold to the state in 1967, and the buildings were gutted by fire in 1969.
Scope and Content
The Francis Bannerman Son records demonstrate the operation of a small family business and a lack of formal structure. They document Bannerman's purchase of military goods from state and federal arsenals and their resale to individuals, with other regular purchases of arms and military antiques made on buying trips to Europe.
The collection contains customer correspondence, financial records, Bannerman catalogs, auction advertisements and proposals, legal documents from four specific lawsuits, real estate documents, travel diaries and ephemera, and Bannerman family personal papers. The bulk of the collection consists of over 143 bound volumes of order books and outbound letters, and correspondence of incoming letters containing customer orders and inquiries. This collection would be useful to researchers interested in the resale costs and designs of military goods, especially arms and uniforms, as well as family-run small business performance and operations.
The collection is arranged into nine series: Order books, Outbound letter books, Correspondence, Financial, Catalogs and publications, Legal, Real estate, Travel, and Personal files.
The Order books series consists of 118 volumes of order books containing daily sales records, with some gaps, from October 1886 to December 1954.
The Outbound letter books series comprises twenty-five volumes of outgoing letterpress books, with the most complete coverage between 1896 and 1904.
The Correspondence series includes incoming letters from customers with inquiries and orders for items from the Bannerman catalog. There are also incoming letters from arms dealers and supply companies. There are two subseries: chronological and alphabetical. Some files in the chronological subseries are alphabetical in nature.
The Financial series includes accounts with arms suppliers, expense records and the storage location of Bannerman's merchandise, account books, check registers, bank deposit books, canceled checks, sales records, Spencer Arms/Bannerman shotgun production leger and employee time books, and a separate account book for Bannerman's accounts with Magnus Moritz, Jr., a Hamburg arms dealer, contains catalogs of the Gardner Gun Company. There are also household accounts and accounts from the potato business that Bannerman ran during the 1870s.
Catalogs and publications series include Bannerman's catalogs and catalog preparation materials from 1904 to 1966. The 1966 catalog represents the 100th anniversary of the business. The non-Bannerman catalogs represent both suppliers and rival dealers in military goods, saddlery, flags, and lodge regalia. There are also tear sheets of articles by and about Bannerman and his business. Also included are auction schedules for armory sales, auction circulars and proposals, information pamphlets, rifle photos, and revolver drawings.
The Legal series includes four specific legal cases involving Francis Bannerman VI, including a dispute with the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a contractual dispute with the Remington Arms Company, and a negligence suit brought against Bannerman on behalf of a child who was injured while playing with explosives in a lot adjoining one of Bannerman's warehouses. There are also records of a suit growing out of the Navy's unauthorized seizure of Bannerman's Island at the start of World War I. The file includes correspondence with his counsel, Charles Evans Hughes, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Real estate series includes documents associated with real estate ownership, such as receipts for rent, insurance payments, and services such as window cleaning for the various properties owned by Bannerman. There is also a scrapbook of photographs and sketches showing how Bannerman incorporated details from various buildings seen in pictures or on his European travels into the design of his island arsenal.
The Travel series includes pocket diaries and memorabilia from several of Bannerman's foreign business trips. The file on a 1904 trip to the Orient includes menus and cards from the Pacific Mail steamer CHINA, a Japanese railway guide, Methodist missionary literature from China, and cards from various hotels en route. A collection of Chinese and Japanese postcards has been transferred to the Audiovisual and Digital Initiatives Department (Accession 1998.248).
Personal files includes philanthropic materials, memberships, family correspondence, family bibles, religious tracts, and Sunday school texts reflecting the Bannermans' deeply ingrained Scotch Presbyterianism. There are also several mid-nineteenth-century school books and school copybooks used by members of the Bannerman and Boyce families.
No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.
Language of Materials
Francis Bannerman Son photographs (Accession 1998.284), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.
- Bannerman family (Family)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Francis Bannerman Son records
- Alexis Jimenez
- Revised 2023
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