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Bannerman's Mosin Nagants

The Bannerman 30-06 Sporter.jpg (18651 bytes)

Kevin Carney - North China Arms

One of the most prolific arms and militaria dealers was the firm of Francis Bannerman and Sons. In fact, one could say, with some certainty, that he could be credited with the current arms and militaria market deals of today. To understand this man and the empire he built, one must go back to 1851. Into this picture came the birth of Francis Bannerman, who was born in Dundee, Scotland. His family was a proud Scottish family with roots dating back to the 1600's from the clan MacDonald. Most of the clan was slaughtered in Glencoe in 1692 for being slow to give allegiance to the King of England. The Campbell clan was a rival clan that by decree of the King slaughtered all MacDonald males from the age of 12-70. The legend has it that one of these members took flight to the hills with the clan's banner. That was the day the family became known as Bannerman.

Francis Bannerman's family immigrated to America in 1854 and settled in Brooklyn, New York , were he set up a business of buying surplus Navy stores such as flags, ropes and surplus militaria at auction. He set up the family business in Brooklyn. As the Civil War came around Francis's father went off to war leaving Francis at the age of 13 to run the family business. As the Civil War ended there were vast quantities of weapons and militaria being auctioned off by the U. S. Government. At the time, purchasers bought these items for scrap, but Francis saw that there was a market for the surplus items and marketed these surplus items for what they were. It was soon realized that these items being sold as a whole instead of scrap brought a much higher return. Bannerman was on the road to being one of the largest military dealers in the world and finally opening a store, a full city block, at 501 Broadway in New York City. It should be noted that, yes, this was a store but, on the other had it could be also said it was a museum. Along with this great store, a catalog was printed regularly from about 1880 to the 1960's. It was considered one of the great catalogs and today is still sought after for reference and collectability. It has everything in it from arms to spears, arrows and a wealth of uniforms and accouterments.

To give a brief idea of the Bannerman business, many of the commemorative cannons that were placed in small towns all over America were purchased through them. The supply of goods for Bannerman's was endless and marketing these items was shrewd. One of the interesting orders filled was during the Russo-Japanese war, when Japan purchased 100,000 rifles, 20 million cartridges and saddles, slings, uniforms, etc. They also supplied, until WWI, to South American and South East Asian governments, not only arms and ammunition, but anything else an army might need to equip itself. On the smaller side there were cadet conversions of Civil War muskets for schools and clubs. Surplus arms the farmer could buy cheaply for the farm. Many uniforms were sold to theatrical organizations and even Buffalo Bill's "Wild West Show". There was also the collector. Business was good and seemed to just grow.

The next major step for Francis Bannerman, and in many respects one of his largest coups, was after the Spanish American War locking in about 90% of all surplus on both sides. This included the salvage of the battleship Maine. It was a huge success in obtaining inventory and turned out to be extremely profitable. This was so large that they had to search for better storage facilities. Due to the New York City ordinances in zoning and storage of black powder, Bannerman moved the operations to Pollope Island in 1900. Pollope Island is on the Hudson River just north of Cold Spring, NY. For the next 17 years the facility that was built and the island became known as Bannerman's Island. The building was designed by Francis himself and was actually a Scottish style castle, with towers, with elaborate shields and ornamentation. In 1918, Francis passed away leaving his sons running the business successfully until the 1970's. Once the castle was a huge grand place, until a mysterious fire gutted it in 1969, two years after the Bannerman family moved their business to Blue Point, Long Island, after selling the Island to the State of New York. . Although there were many conversions of arms the Bannerman's did, a few stand out as interesting examples. It should be also noted that they even did candelabras out of old Civil War era bayonets and sold these. There was not a market they did not try to conquer.

On of the most interesting conversions Bannerman did was to take an early Springfield 1903 and rework these for the British War effort from 1914-15, when Britain was short of arms. These were re-heat treated by R.F. Sedgely & Comp. due to the brittleness of the early Springfield receivers and re-fitted with Krag barrels and rechambered to .303. Then they were restocked in Springfield stocks and added Krag sights and trigger guards. Handguards and followers were surplus Mauser parts. The rifle was marked with the Bannerman Crest and name. There were 1,000 of these rifles made, but ammunition problems arouse due to faulty Canadian ammunition. These were regulated to drill rifles. Although a failure, in a sense, it did not stop Bannerman conversions.

Prior to the Mauser- Springfield conversion, a Gew 88 was taken and refitted with a Springfield .30 calibre barrel and rechambered to 7.65 Mauser and also had the Krag rear sight refitted. These were believed to be set up for markets in South America. It is not known how many were built or how many were produced. To the collector these are extremely hard to find and are rare.

After World War I, the surplus market was glutted with arms of all types. In the U. S., there were vast numbers of Westinghouse and Remington Mosin Nagants. Many of these were absorbed into various National Guard units, sold by the Civilian Marksman Program and actually, some were issued to many Post Offices during the gangster era. Usually, two were issued to the Post Offices in the rural Midwest and will be marked. Some of the mining companies also bought cheap Mosins during the mining wars in West Virginia. The only problem, in America, was that the 7.62 x 54R round was not cheaply available as surplus although, commercial manufacturers sold these. To sell these rifles, the original manufactures even made sporters out of them with Lyman peep sights. One of the Remington sporters produced after the war was on view years ago at the Remington Museum. The Bannerman Comp. was no different. These were their cheap surplus, but how to sell them was the key. In the 20's they decided that to chamber these in .30-06 would be a good way of selling them on the American market. Although, these rifles are not as rare as the previous two conversions mentioned, they are obtainable and usually at a fair price. To a collector it's a great conversion of a Mosin and it being an American conversion, it not only appeals to the Mosin collector but to the American Arms collector.

The basic Mosin conversions were offered two ways. One was a sporter version with cut down stock and bent bolt. The other was a military version which, consisted of a full stock and straight bolt. Both versions had the barrels cut back and rechambered for the 30-06 round. The extractor was modified with the bolt head being blackened. It should be noted, that this is one of the ways of telling a Bannerman conversion, for on the sporter version many Mosins were modified by gunsmiths from the 20-60's and are not true Bannermans. One must be careful on these and these versions tend to get lumped in as Bannerman conversions. To compensate for the 30-06 round, the magazine well was spread out. Usually by flattening the reinforcement rib. These were usually stamped Cal 30 06 in a very small font. Bolts retained their original number and usually, because of the cut back of the barrel, the original serial number was obliterated. Rear sights on the military model was original with no special attention being paid to regraduation. Although, the military model was probably set up for export, no known contracts were done. It was interesting that one lot of 200 military models were sold to the American Fascist Party in the 1930's and as World War II broke out, the American Fascist Party offered the rifle to the CT State Police for the war effort.

Chamber detail of 30-06 Sporter.jpg (37402 bytes)

The basic sporter retains all the modifications with the exception of the stock being cut down to a 3/4 length stock. It was thinned and finished in a light gloss varnish. The sling slots were inlayed with wood fillets. Rear sights consisted of the original rear sight or the base being removed and replaced with a flip V notch sight. The barrel was cut to 21.5 inches with a front sight dovetailed to the barrel. The bolt was bent slightly straight down with no addition to length.  These two basic conversions were another way to market the glut of Mosins on the market and Bannerman did sell regular surplus guns also. Although, limited in numbers, the 30-06 show up for sale. These should be considered collector pieces only, for there is a question of safety in this modification. I have heard light loads have been fired out of these without failure, but again, caution must be aired on this. These are just too collectable to shoot.   Another interesting conversion that was done to the Mosin is a cadet or drill rifle in the 20's. These were modified to be drill rifles for Military Schools and College ROTC programs. These were modified not to shoot. In talking to another collector, he stated that someone at Virginia Military Institute used these in the 30's. Many of these rifles can still be found from time to time in Long Island due to the Military Schools out there and the last warehouse location of Bannerman's.

Stock marking on DrillCadet Rifle.jpg (43582 bytes)

These drill rifles are unique in themselves and are generally shunned by many collectors for they do not shoot. The basic modifications are cutting down the original rifle to a barrel length of 23.5 inches and the removal of both front and rear sights. The chamber markings were ground off leaving no markings except for sometimes the provisional powder proof of Russia. The rear sight base was carefully milled to a smooth contour leaving no provision for any sort of rear sight. Stocks were shortened and a front band was added from a U. S. Model 1917. Krag wire loops were added to the original rear Mosin band and a Krag rear swivel and base was added to the rear of the stock. Although on most of the rifles examined the norm is a Krag swivel, some have had other swivels with a base of two pressed sheet metal pieces. To make these rifles unfirable the firing pin was clipped and the follow in the magazine was removed and the original floorplate was pinned into position. Front sights were added that were similar to Springfield 03 sight. These are interesting examples of a school gun and many will be found with school markings branded or stamped in the stocks. These appear to be made in some quantity and the authorities has found more ( 12 out of 20 examples) in the Long Island Area than in other places. Whether this is a coincidence or not, it is not known. It might just be that there were a few large military schools in Long Island and as they went out of business the rifles themselves stayed in the area.

In closing, it is clear that Bannerman is an American icon in many ways. If it was not for him the collectors market might not be what it is today. The many products sold by him are today collectable along with catalogs from over the years. There is a movement to try to save the ruins of Bannerman Island and keep his legacy alive. Whether you are a collector or interested in history or business, the Bannerman story has everything. If you are a Mosin collector these examples deserve a place in anyone's collection. The best part is they are still out there and still affordable. - Kevin Carney

Photo Section - Click On Links Below

Side View of Military Model

Chamber Detail Of The Military 30-06 Model

Chamber Detail Of The 30-06 Sporter

Chamber Detail Of The Drill/Cadet Rifle

Detail Of The Magazine Modifications Made To All 30-06 Models

Detail Of The Rear Swivel - Drill Rifle

Front Barrel Band Detail - Drill/Cadet Rifle

1945 Bannerman And Sons Catalog

Front Sight Detail Of The 30-06 Sporter

Front Sight Detail Of The Version I Drill Rifle

Military Model

The Bannerman 30-06 Sporter

Version I Of The Drill Rifle

Version II Of The Drill Rifle - No Front Sight

Rear Flip Sight Detail Of The Sporter

Rear Stock Detail - 30-06 Sporter

Stock Marking Detail From Drill/Cadet Rifle

Ruins Of The Bannerman Home After The Fire

Catalog


 
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