Early Collecting Days and Bannerman Castle
The collecting of antique arms is a phenomenon which was around in some degree for many years, but from its beginnings of nobles gathering war trophies, became one of the common soldier bringing home souvenirs from campaigns.
In 1858 the Bannerman family began a surplus business in Brooklyn . N.Y. and in 1865 after the Civil War ended, began buying tons of military surplus equipment. This burgeoning business by 1897 had grown so much that at the outbreak of the Spanish American war in 1898, volunteers for American service were outfitted largely from Frank Bannerman's huge surplus business.
In 1900 Bannerman purchased Pollopel Island north of N.Y. in the Hudson River as an arsenal for storing the tons of munitions accumulated, and about 1901 began constructing a castle and other buildings. In 1918 Bannerman passed bt construction kept going until 1920 when a black powder explosion destroyed a portion of the castle.
The family kept selling militaria in catalogs for many years, but in 1950 when the ferry that provided access to the island sank in a storm, the island was abandoned. The ruins still stand.
What is pertinent about the Bannerman tale, is that these weapons that filtered through these premises became in degree prevalent in the growing pastime of collecting old and often exotic arms.
By the time I began collecting in earnest in the 60s (I had already bought bayonets from barrels in army surplus stores in the 50s) many weapons which became the offerings in mail order catalogs may have been in 'collecting circulation' for years and possibly from this source.
Over time, it sees that a number of weapons were even marked with the Bannerman name. On a M1902 US army sword, featured in the 1927 catalog was stamped BANNERMANS MILITARY GOODS N.Y.
In other cases there have been briquets of the c.1800 form with cast brass hilts used by virtually most European armies, and on the blades.
WARtd Wd CAS......the small letters raised and underlined in a style of abbrev known as superscript often seen on Mexican weapons and others in England etc.
A Toledo bayonet is marked;
ARTa FABa DE TOLEDO 1895
Apparently before the Spanish American war, Bannerman was buying volumes of Spanish surplus arms from Cuba, and after the war they were buying the huge volume of weapons captured. This may well account for huge numbers of Spanish colonial weapons which have circulated for generations here in the US.
These same marks were found on the blade of an aceh pedung, and others which reveals being remounted in other contexts. It seems Bannerman was creating their own weapons in some degree, while selling the volume of bring backs and surplus gatherings.
I am wondering if readers and collectors out there have encountered examples of weapons which may have had some contact or provenance through the Bannerman filter. I would appreciate very much any illustrations and or examples.
THE STORY IS INCREDIBLE ...PLEASE ALSO SEE http://www.hudsonriver.com/bannerman-island
Ibrahiim thank you so much for this response and fascinating link to the history that is held in the story of Frank Bannerman and his castle.
In posting this thread, I wanted to share with readers and 'collectors' a bit about the foundations of this hobby/obsession/passion or whatever. :)
As one of the 'old timers' I thought it might be interesting to see how this area of collecting began to become more widely practiced from these early years.
As a young collector, beginning with a handful of WWII bayonets (not that 'ancient' back in the 50s), I had no idea where this little 'collection' would eventually take me, nor did I have any idea of Bannerman, or for that matter any of the 'mail order' dealers who would later become well known.
What I did know was that I loved history, and these weapons were often icons of some of the most dramatic times, moments and events in it. In those days, WWII was almost 'current' as it was constantly present in its aftermath for years, and 'surplus' was pretty much everywhere.
In later years, I was fascinated with the mail order catalogs which had military weapons as well as many 'exotic' items from faraway places we only knew of from National Geographic magazines.
The collecting of these items, learning the history, and about cultures from faraway places and the weapons they use, was powerfully intriguing, and became obsessive as I could never seem to learn enough, always wanting more.
Collectors, of arms just as in any field, are a diverse group, and each follows their own path in what aspects interest them or compels their pursuits.
I soon found that I was far more a historian (wanna be) than a collector, and while I did acquire a weapon here and there, it was their history I wanted to learn.
That was why these forums were ideal for me, I could learn from the weapons other guys would acquire, and share what I could learn with them and others reading , so we could all benefit. With discussions and sharing of examples the sum of knowledge became powerfully assembled and over time, became an archives that would furnish information for current and future research.
While I do not expect a great deal of interest presently in this thread, I wanted this to be included as a matter of record, so that one day...a collector who finds something marked 'Bannerman' or with such reference, they will see how this man affected the early days of this hobby.
Also, as an 'old timer', I wanted to share this with the young guys who are just becoming 'afflicted' with the collecting arms bug, and encourage them to learn all they can, to acquire 'smartly' and wish them well.
Always collect and learn, but try to learn FIRST! Knowledge is the most important weapon you will ever have in your collection! :)
Thanks Jim, Ibrahiim,
I guess like many collectors I heard the name early on but I did not know anything of the story behind it. Fascinating history, great post.
By coincidence there was a very interesting TV programme last night, here in the UK, ABANDONED ENGINEERING, on the YESTERDAY channel, that featured the Bannerman castle. It seems that one of the reasons for its present state of repair was that it was built under Mr Bannerman's personal instruction, with little or no architectural or engineering input. It was stated that he was thought to have used up tons of his unsaleable surplus metal stock in the foundations and construction, resulting in a generally unstable building.
Mel and CC, thank you so much for this input, I was hoping that this might bring in some perspectives from other collectors who may know of or had heard of this intriguing topic.
I wish I had seen that Mel! That is exactly true, Bannerman tried to construct his 'castle' based mostly on his personal images, and baronial styles he knew from his rich Scottish history. It was rather like some of the historic sites here in the US such as the 'stone house' in Florida, or 'Scotty's Castle' in Death Valley in California. These were built from scrap and gathered material over time and with little true engineering.
However it seems Bannerman's must have been relatively soundly built as its collapse was mostly caused by at least one explosion of apparently improperly stored munitions, which despite considerable damage, left much of the structure standing. The fact that the ruin prevails is remarkable.
Thank you again guys!
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I was doing some locums work in Newburgh in the last decade and one day, when I was up in the office of the occupational health nurse, I could see the remains of Bannerman's castle out the window in the distance. I had previously had glimpses from the train a few times (Amtrak & Metro North - and you can see a flash of it in Hitchcock's North by Northwest). I asked and learned that there were Pollepel Island tours including an extensive guided walking tour around the island. On my next assignment I left time on arrival day for the tour. It was a hot day and there were unexpected showers that I was unprepared for, but also grateful for.
The main building was considered too unstable then for close approach and there have been continuing losses due to vandalism and the weather - I think a significant part of wall had fallen the previous winter. On the tour, we were told that a lot of 'military' iron had been used in the concrete, but that the concrete was seriously substandard leading to accelerated decay of the structure.
Bannerman's as a business was gone by the time I, also, started collecting in the 1960s, but I did make my earliest accessions from the catalog of Westchester Trading in the Bronx who claimed to be a successor to Bannerman's. My first purchase was a US model 1860 cavalry saber for $24.50 and later a WWII gunto mounted 17th century Japanese katana blade for $65. Big money (for me) in those days.
I believe that the tours to the island are continuing (with advance booking advised) and while in the area, a visitor should also consider the museum at the West Point Military Academy.
Thank you Lee!!!!
Clearly you and I had our beginnings in the 'collecting arms syndrome' in the same times, and I recall my poring through mail order catalogs from the well known (some notorious) dealers to the point they were termed my 'wish' books. As I did not have much $$ I was elated that I was typically allowed to use the layaway method. In the often months of anxious anticipation of that completion, I would assuage my waiting by trying to find out all I could about the weapon I awaited.
And 'so it began' :) ……..and it was good.
I recall seeing photos of it as a younger with a huge horde of cannon and shells just lying about, looks fairly well stripped now, probably after they all exploded. I remember them saying that it was off limits due to unexploded ordinance. Wasn't living too far from it, just far enough I was dissuaded from visiting it anyway by bike.
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