The History of The Spencer Shotgun. Part 2 of 3, The Bannerman Years(1890-1902)

Part 2: This begins right where the previous one left off and tells the story of the Bannerman acquisition, and his later supreme court trial against Winchester for patent infringement. It also chronicles how Bannerman further marketed and developed these shotguns, and even shows some experimental rifles he tried out using the same action.By the time he stopped making them, their previous successes and Bannermans business know how, would end up in him producing 6 times as many guns as the Spencer Arms Co. had been able to, and nearly all of the revisions we see today from the 2nd model Spencer made guns are because of him.

(Part 1…. HERE! )

The F. Bannerman years…

In a liquidation of the company after Spencers bankruptcy, Pratt and Whitney and others with interests in the company would put the company up for sale. This would lead to an eccentric group of investors trying to buy it up, leading to a surplus military goods dealer named Francis Bannerman winning a bid against Winchester and another to the rights for the company, he would then start a full scale takeover. This included buying the tooling and machinery mortgage from Pratt and Whitney and all assets and kicking everyone out of the company.

-Francis Bannerman in early 1900ish

About Francis Bannerman…In 1872, Bannerman began buying from army auctions and soon began noticing the useful and historic war weapons being scapped for metal. Not long after that, he began buying them up and began to resell them from a store front. Later he started sending out an illustrated catalog to collectors, and countries who may be looking to outfit their troops with second hand yet pretty modern arms at cheap prices. He also supplied everyday frontiersmen with fowling guns made from the old army, which he also altered into “Quaker guns” for boys brigades and military schools. The Assistant Chief of Ordnance stated that “Bannerman has done so much good toward training the youth of America with his Quaker drill guns that the United States could well afford to pay him a bounty on each gun made.” He later opened stores in New York City, first at 118 Broad Street in 1887, then 27 Front Street in 1892, and finally another in 1897 at 579 Broadway, where he outfitted many regiments during the Spanish-American War. After the war, he purchased over 90 per cent of the captured war material from the United States Government, and then bought historic Polopel’s Island, in the Hudson Highlands opposite Cornwall, known to the public as Bannerman’s Island. Bannerman was not only the largest surplus dealer in the world by 1891, but also was the acknowledged founder of the military surplus business as we know it today. By 1895 he was the worlds foremost authority on military supplies and values. His illustrated catalog of more than 400 pages, was known to collectors as the best book on the subject and one of the best places to find items that would outfit second world armies. At the request of the Government, he made a book called a History of War Weapons that was used as reference material for years to come. He also originated the “sealed bid” plan of selling obsolete Government surplus arms and goods to individuals. His inventory and storage were so extensive, that at the outbreak of the European War in 1914, he supplied the French Army with 8,000 saddles in just 7 weeks from start to finish off current stock he already had. Later that year, as a loyal Scot, he donated thousands of rifles, cartridges, artillery etc., to the British Army for thier effort. By 1916, his resources were so extensive that he had converted a large ocean steamer into a warship, and delivered it in just one week after buying it, and he had been selling more arms than some world renowned arsenals.

 

In December 1889, Bannerman started foreclosure lawsuit actions against the failed Spencer Arms Co., and by May 2nd 1890, the supreme court had decided in Bannermans favor to kick out all officers and workers from the company and grant him full control. This subsequently lead Spencer Arms Co. to be ordered to pay $19,328.41 immediately. As said before in the last section, this led Christopher Spencer to have to give up all of his rights, titles, interests, and patents to Bannerman in lieu of payment. This also nullified any royalties from being available for Spencer, any workers, or any officers of the company in  the years that followed. Bannerman then decided to move the entire operation to Brooklyn, New York and began to set up machines to resume production in the fall of 1890.

 

The Model 1900

By December 1890, Bannerman had restarted production of the shotguns while using up the last of the Spencer Model 1887 receivers, which went till at least Serial #3000 (and likely more). When they ran out of these, they remarked them with their markings as the Bannerman Model 1890, and at the same time introduced a new, more modern longer pump forend that was also possibly equipped on the VERY last Spencers(according to Marcot). This Model was largely unchanged minus the markings and fore end from the Model 1887. About 9000 of this new 1890 model would be made over the next 3-5 years till serial ~12,000 ish.

 

-The bannerman Model 1890. Note the 2 screw sideplates, older rubber foreend, and 1890 marking

 

 

Possible Model 1894 and rifles

Bannerman would later go on to advertise what they called an 1894 model… although, they are either very rare, or more likely never existed and were just 1890 models with a new forend on an otherwise unchanged gun…these were probably marketed in brochures as a new model to try and increase sales as was common at the time it seems to me.This is also what Roy Marcot had theorized about this model too. I have been thoroughly unable to find ANY guns marked as such, or any solid info about differences.

Sometime around this period, Bannerman also experimented with pump action rifles using this same design, and produced at least one highly engraved example of these.(See pics below) These had a smaller reciever and pump, with bottom load like the shotguns, and used the same tilting breech block as the others. They also all had octagonal barrels it seems from the few examples out there currently.

A Bannerman repeating rifle that was made on the Spencer patents. Photos allowed courtesy of Morphy Auctions, www.morphyauctions.com

 

The Model 1896 

In late 1895, Bannerman remarked the recievers and changed the forend up a bit again and released it as the Model 1896. These were identical to the model 1890 minus markings and a new forend design. He would go on to make around 6000 of this model from late 1895 till about 1900 at serial #18,000-ish.

 

-The Bannerman Model 1896

 

Bannerman vs. Winchester

By the early 1890s, Bannerman was getting annoyed by other designers and companies who had come up with similar repeaters, and who had been stealing the market share. One such design was made by Andrew Burgess, who avoided this mess and lawsuits with bannerman by getting around the Spencer patent completely. He did so by  meeting and negotiating with Spencer in 1883 so that he could freely submit his patent for a sliding wrist shotgun, instead of a pump action(see below). In early 1893, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company introduced the John Browning-designed Model 1893 pump shotgun (US #441,390) which had the same operational characteristics. After these experienced quick sales and lots of praise, in October 1894 Bannerman finally had enough. He promptly filed an offical lawsuit against the Winchester Repeating Arms Company claiming that the slide/pump actions used by Winchester’s Model 1890, and new Model 1893 shotgun ahd infringed on the patents that he owned and others also. Bannerman and his lawyers called for the court to immediately force Winchester to halt production, and they claimed $10,000 in damages and royalties for the sale of guns which had infringed on the patent Bannerman owned. Winchester would temporarily halt production of the Model 1893 before restarting in mid 1894, and Bannerman would spend the next 3 years fighting Winchester in court over these Model 1893 shotguns and the previous Model 1890 design. Various contemporary newspaper reports from this time suggested that between 100,000 and 200,000 people were directly interested in, and or, affected by this case. It also meant that ordinary owners were liable for paying the damages from the Winchester 1890 and 1893 if Bannerman had won the lawsuit due to laws of this time. This made it quite a large case that was given some publicity and a good bit of interest at the time as it was mostly unheard of for someone to challenge Winchester in such a way.

 

-My personal Burgess Takedown model. #2376

-My Burgess shotgun broken down. #2376

 

Winchester would end up stifling the growing fears and rumors during this case by guaranteeing its Model 1893 and promising to refund customers if legal action caused buyers to be responsible, which led them to fight the case even harder in mid 1894. Winchester then dispatched a man by the name of George D. Seymour to Europeat to scour the French and British patent archives for any patents for similar actions that had been filed before the Spencer one was. Seymour discovered four patents for repeating pump action firearms: three British and one French. The earliest of these was Alexander Bain’s patent of 1854, and two more patents held by Joseph Curtis and William Krutzsch were found, dating from 1866. The later French patent was filed by M.M. Magot in 1880. All of these designs, including the Curtis rifle, never progressed beyond the development stage and were pretty forgotten until rediscovered by Winchester, at which point they would be built and or used to claim that these earlier designs invalidated Bannerman’s patent claims.

To illustrate their defence after Bannerman had stated that these designs were unworkable prototypes and should be thrown out as evidence…Winchester decided to build working models of each of the designs, and located an actual working Margot gun, breathing life into long forgotten patent drawings. This must have been an insane engineering task for them at this time, as the patent designs wouldnt have had much, if any, of the needed measurements, materials use, and tolerances that it would require to produce a working model of each from scratch based off nothing more than drawings. In 1895-96 Winchester engineers including T.C. Johnson and many others, assembled working models of each of the designs to prove their viability. These were then test fired and given to Winchester’s lawyers who took them into court and submitted them as further evidence, even offering a live firing demonstration outside the courthouse. The court declined the demonstration, but used this and other information from previous cases and to and make its final decision. (see pic below for examples made by Winchester) During this time Bannerman introduced the Model 1896 as shown above.

 

 

-Winchester reproductions of previous patent firearms designs from Europe. Top: Margot rifle. French patent #138,979, from Oct 6, 1880. Purchased by Winchesters representative Seymour in Middle: Curtis Rifle. British patent #1810 from July 10,1866. Made off patent drawings by Winchester engineers. Bottom: Krutzsch Rifle, British patent #2205 on Aug 27, 1866. Made by Winchester engineers to patent specs. Photos Courtesy Winchester Arms Collection. These are all currently on display at the Cody firearms museum in Cody, Wyoming.

 

Judge Hoyt H. Wheeler of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favour of Winchester and threw out Bannerman’s suit on June 27th 1897(See pictures below) At this point Winchester had produced something like 34,000 Model 1893s, and in November 1897 after winning the case, they were free to introduce their new and improved version, the Model 1897. The release of this new model lead them to release a full recall on all Model 1893 guns. This was due to fears of possible blowups/mechanical issues with smokless loads and lead them to offer a “similar quality new model 1897 for any 1893 turned in.” This is substantiated in historical records and chronicled in George Madis’ “The Winchester Book” page 523.. “Till serials over 31,000, all guns of this model had 2 5/8” inch chambers. Because of impending mechanical problems and the danger of higher pressures developed by smokeless loads, Winchester informed its dealers and customers that they would trade a new model 1897 of equal grade for any 1893 returned. Returned model 1893 guna were destroyed. This resulted in the loss of most model 1893s; they consequently are rarely seen today. There are thought to be less than 3500 left of these models.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Moses Browning was quoted as having admitted in the courtroom, that he had copied the Spencer in some ways, just as others had, but that it was a fundamentaly different action. It was also said at the time that the judge may have sided with Winchester due to the fact that many others had technically infringed on some parts of the patent, such as in rifles like the Colt Lightning, and the Burgess shotgun. Winchester also had attested that a method of operation was not patentable, but rather its mechanism and system was, as had been determined in past cases, such as those involving Richard Gatling and his crank operated guns in the past decade. He also had tried to sue others for their designs and had been denied on this same basis(Thanks to designs such as the French Mitrailleuse, Ripley Machine gun, Puckle gun, and the Bailey crank gun among other more unsuccessful designs being used against him).

Christopher M. Spencer was also called as a witness for the prosecution and his testimony covered 58 pages in the official court record. But despite Spencer also conttending that Winchester infringed upon his patents, the Court ruled against Bannerman. Bannerman appealed to the U.S. Superior Court of Appeals on January 5, 1900, but the verdict was sustained. Winchester was permitted to market their firearms without any further interruption in production. In fact, even though the Spencer-Bannerman shotgun sales picked up (about ~21,000 produced), Winchester had already been dominating the market with sold more than 532,000 Model 1890 rifles and 34,000 Model 1893 shotguns sold by 1897 and many more to be sold in the coming years. Bannerman would return home after this loss and continue production of his model 1896 till around 1900, when he would introduce  This would be the Model 1900, which has a 2nd ejector added to help with extraction, which is controlled by an unusually tall left side plate(See below) Totalling 21,100ish guns.

-My Model 1900 reciever with the tall sideplate

 

-Here we see my Model 1900, with its 2nd ejector equipped pump assembly

 

 The Model 1900

The Model 1900 would now introduce the largest update on the design yet. This included a 2nd ejector and a tall left sideplate, and takedown levers… although the left side plate being taller is a mystery, as the side plate doesnt control the ejector at any point, thanks to a groove in the barrel and a spring that does it already. Bannermans manual for the Model 1900 stated “For indoor practice, we would suggest loading the gun with empty shells, caps only. Place six pieces of lighted candle three feet from the muzzle of the gun – aim – fire – and if you aim right the light will be blown out – then move the slide handle back full extent, then forward – aim – pull the trigger and repeat the operations until shells are discharged – Go slowly at first until you get the three movements – One, Backward – Two, Forward – Three, pull trigger. These movements can be made with such rapidity that all six shots can easily be fired in three seconds.”  Takedown was achived by turning the receiver lever downward 90*, and then turning the barrel lever counter clockwise till it comes out, then pull the mag tube out, then unscrew the barrel. The mag tube can be reattached to the barrel at this point for stage also if you’d like.

As i said, the tall side plate is a mystery, as the ejector is never below the level of the standard older Model 1896’s side plate where its action bar moves. Also older Model 1896 pumps are interchangeable easily on a Model 1900, and i have verified that a Model 1900 pump assembly also works on an older Model 1896 gun with the side plate off and the ejector still attached, but it wont work with the left control plate on, as there is no provision on a Model 1896 receiver/barrel for the ejector to sink into to clear.

-Model 1900 Bannerman. Note the taller left side control plate, grooved forend, and takedown levers

 

The final years of the Spencer repeating shotgun

Bannerman would go on to sell about 3,000 more of this model up till serial ~21,100 ish. By mid 1902, the sales just werent enough and he decided to switch directions, so he ceased the production of all shotguns, and later announced that his Brooklyn factory was for sale, valued at upwards of $100,000. The reason given for the company’s departure from the shotguns was that Bannerman wanted to give one hundred percent of their effort to the surplus military goods business stating that it was a direction, “which was always more profitable and more to our liking, and on which there is no patent”. No substantiated record exists of what actually ended up of the Bannerman machinery, or the Spencer tooling and fixtures. It is speculated by many that it was sold back to Pratt and Whitney, and other makers in the area for their gun businesses though and would make sense.

 

 

 

End part 2…To be continued.

Thank You for reading this, and feel free to comment below with reviews and any questions/info you have! -Seth.

 

Special Thanks go out to Othias for creating this site and him graciously lending his pictures, and Morphy Auctions Co. & Rock Island Auction Co. for letting me use some of their photos!

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