Archive for September 30th, 2022

September 30, 2022

American Antique Dealers – Francis Bannerman & Sons, New York, 1929

Our collection of catalogues produced by antique dealers had another fascinating addition in the last few weeks – a catalogue from Francis (Frank) Bannerman & Sons, dating from 1929. The catalogue is in quite a fragile condition (the paper used for the catalogue is rather thin) but it’s also quite thick, with more than 370 pages, and thousands of objects listed for sale throughout – it’s certainly one of the largest and most extensive antique dealer stock catalogues we’ve seen (so far).

Francis Bannerman & Sons, catalogue, 1929. Photograph Antique Dealers Research Project, University of Leeds.

The catalogue is titled, ‘War Weapons, Antique and Modern – Cannon, Pistols, Muskets, Rifles, Saddles, Uniforms, Cartridges’. The front cover, (shown above), has a photograph of one of the ‘Island Storehouses’ that Bannerman had in New York – and which was, as the catalogue description suggests, ‘one of the sights of New York’ and ‘the finest Military Museum in the City’. It’s certainly a very impressive building, in a ‘Romantic’ Gothic style, obviously deemed appropriate for the stock of antique and modern weapons.

Francis Bannerman (b.1851 in Dundee in Scotland) came to the USA with his parents in 1854 and began in business working with at his father’s ‘junk shop’ in New York, trading in ‘ship chandlery’ and ‘naval auction goods’ (as Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography described it), which had been established in 1865. Bannerman developed the business further, opening his own stores selling antique weapons alongside the naval and army surplus stores he acquired from Government auction sales. Here (below) is Francis Bannerman, photographed in the 1920s.

Francis (Frank) Bannerman, c.1920s. Photograph, Antique Dealer Research Project, University of Leeds.

As a dealer in antique arms and armour, Bannerman continued a tradition that one can trace back into the early 19th century, with famous antique dealers such as Samuel Pratt (d.1849) and his brother Henry, who together with Samuel’s son, Samuel Luke Pratt (1805-1878), who ran a highly successful business trading in ‘ancient armour’ in New Bond Street, London, in the 19th century. Bannerman’s business in the 1920s draws from these traditions, but his business also seems to have acted as a wholesaler and supplier to several National Government’s during times of conflict. Hence, I guess, the large storehouses that Bannerman built in New York. Indeed, the images of the storerooms suggest a wide mixture of antique weapons and objects of antiquarian interest, alongside row upon row of rifles, many from Army and Navy stock from World War I; the weapons were sold for military re-use at the time. Here’s two images of the stores (apologies – the original photographs are very grainy):

Bannerman stores, New York, 1929. Photograph, Antique Dealer Research Project, University of Leeds.
Bannerman stores, New York, 1929. Photograph, Antique Dealer Research Project, University of Leeds.

The catalogue itself contains a mixture of ex-Government rifles, swords, clothing, tents, cannon etc., alongside some fascinating antique weapons, many of European origin from the Medieval Period onwards, including 16th century armour, spears and crossbows. The business also seems to have bought and sold weapons from indigenous (‘native’) populations from both the USA and around the world. Here, for example, is a rather problematically described series of ‘Bows and Arrows from Savage Tribes’:

Bannerman catalogue, 1929. Photograph Antique Dealer Research Project, University of Leeds.

There are also many rare collector’s pieces in the catalogue, some of which, the catalogue suggests, had been exhibited by Bannerman at the ‘British Empire Exhibition 1924’ at Wembley in London. Here (below) are some early wheelock and flintlock pistols from the 1924 Wembley Exhibition. The top image (‘C-WH’) is described in the catalogue as ‘Wheelock Sporting Gun, mid 17th century German’…’from Marquis of Ripon Collection’ and priced at $500.00.

Bannerman catalogue, New York, 1929. Photograph Antique Dealer Research Project, University of Leeds.

As well as photographs, the catalogue has hundreds of line drawings of arms and armour. This powder horn, priced at $250, from the 1812 War between Britian and the USA (1812-1815) is described as ‘Showing engagement June 29, 1813, between the British frigate, Junon, 30 guns, Capt. Sanders, and the Martin, 18 guns, Capt. Stenhouse.’ It was also described as ‘the only illustration known showing the engagement.’ The powder horn was apparently pawned by the descendants of the original owner, but never redeemed, and was sold to Bannerman by the heirs of the pawnbroking business.

Bannerman catalogue, New York, 1929. Photograph, Antique Dealer Research Project, University of Leeds.

The Bannerman catalogue is a rare survival, although I’m aware of the existence of a small number of other editions of the catalogue, and provides a unique insight into some of the intriguing overlaps between ‘antique dealing’ and other commercial operations.

Mark

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