The Rare And Remarkable Bannermans

These strange conglomerations of parts are perhaps the first platypus milsurps!

Francis Bannerman, later Francis Bannerman Sons, of New York City, dominated the military surplus market from shortly after the Civil War through the Spanish American War and WWI and right through WWII. Along the way, the Bannermans cobbled together some of the strangest mix of parts guns ever assembled anywhere and found a hungry and ready market for cheap bolt actions of questionable ancestry. Few of Bannerman’s fantasy rifles have survived, which make them, I believe, some of the more collectable milsurps and surely the least known and the most worthy of study.

origin of the Clan Macdonald. The name? According to their 1955 catalog, “Tradition states that the name originated at Bannockburn, when during the battle, a member of the Macdonald clan rescued a clan pennant, whereupon King Robert Bruce cut off the streamer part of the flag from the national St. Andrew’s Cross and pronounced the banner bearer, a ‘Bannerman.’” The name stuck.

Maybe we milsurp enthusiasts are all “Scotch,” as in, “frugal.” Anyway, the Bannermans made millions buying and selling surplus anything from British pith helmets to Hotchkiss mountain howitzers. What they couldn’t sell whole, they broke down into parts and pieces for resale.

Smelting Money

David Bannerman, a son, recalls that in the 1880s the backyard of their home in Brooklyn was covered with “hundreds of cases filled with the obsolete Civil War US oval belt plates. These had a brass front and a heavy lead back. They were put in the smelter right there, and the lead run into pigs and the brass in barrels. As I recollect, it was a very profitable undertaking.” That was the genius of the Bannermans. Buy government scrap and smelt it into real dollars.

Some of the great purchases of the firm were the government’s liquidation of Civil War and Spanish American War stores in 1900-1901. Bannerman bought thousands of Civil War rifles, carbines and revolvers and moved them quickly into the public mainstream through large department store chains like Gimbels and Mays. The booty from the Spanish American War contained so much explosive ordnance and artillery that Bannerman built a warehouse in the style of a Scottish castle on an island in the Hudson River near West Point.
By Holt Bodinson

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