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 the Winchester company for patent infringement. It also chronicles how Bannerman further marketed and developed these shotguns, then tells the fate of the company and design. It also shows some experimental rifles he tried out using the same action. By the time he stopped producing these, their previous successes and Bannermans business know how ended 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 early 1890, a liquidation of the Spencer company happened due to their recent bankruptcy, in which Pratt and Whitney and others with financial interests had put the company up for sale. This lead to an eccentric group of investors trying to buy it up, who told a surplus military goods dealer named Francis Bannerman about this as well. Bannerman ended up with the winning bid, beating Winchester and others to the rights for the company, and then started a full scale takeover.

-Francis Bannerman in early 1900ish

Before we procede, i will tell you a bit 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 1890

By December 1890, Bannerman had moved the machinery and restarted production of the shotguns by using up the last of the Spencer Model 1887 receivers, which went till at least Serial #3000 (and likely more). When his operation ran out of these, they made more and marked them with their markings as the Bannerman Model 1890. They then introduced athe newer, more modern and longer pump forend that had been used on some of the older receievers as standard for all guns. This Model was unchanged minus the markings and fore-end from the Model 1887 Spencer guns. About 9000 of this new 1890 model would be made over the next 3 to 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 for Bannerman and others.although, they are either very rare, or were just marketed in brochures as such to try and increase sales….as most Bannerman guns were very talked up in their ads to drum up business at that time, and pictures or records of ones marked as such have been impossible to find. Those made after late 1893 started getting a new, more shapely forend that stayed till the early Model 1896s. Serial numbers on these are unknown if they even exist. This is also what Roy Marcot had theorized about this model too in his books and from what the Cody Firearms Museum had told him. I have also been thoroughly unable to find ANY guns marked as such.

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 basically identical to the model 1890 minus markings, a reatiner for the magazine tube and follower, 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 becoming aware of other designers and companies who had come up with similar repeaters, who had been taking some of 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 and redesigning, eventually submitting his patent for a sliding wrist shotgun, instead of a pump action(see pic 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, Bannerman finally had enough in October 1894. He promptly filed an offical lawsuit against the Winchester Repeating Arms Company claiming that the slide/pump actions used by both Winchester’s Model 1890, and the new Model 1893 shotgun had infringed on the patents that he owned. Bannerman and his lawyers called for the court to immediately force Winchester to halt production, and to pay $10,000 in damages and royalties for the sale of guns which had infringed on the patent that Bannerman owned. Winchester would temporarily halt production of the Model 1893 during this time, before restarting in mid 1894. Bannerman would spend the next 3 years fighting Winchester in court over these Model 1893 shotguns, and their 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. A major reason for this was that ordinary owners were liable for paying the damages from the suit due to laws of this time, rather than Winchester if Bannerman had won his suit. This made it quite a large case that was given some publicity and a good bit of interest, 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

 

In 1894, Winchester would end up stifling the growing fears and rumors by customers 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 would dispatch a man by the name of George D. Seymour to Europe to scour the European patent archives for any patents for similar actions that had been filed before the Spencer one was. Mr. 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 for a repeating rifle. The next two patents were held by Joseph Curtis and William Krutzsch, both dating from 1866. The final patent was filed by Frenchman M.M. Magot in 1880.

All of these designs, including the Curtis rifle, never progressed beyond the development stage and were nearly forgotten until rediscovered by Seymour. Winchester then used these as their claim that earlier designs invalidated Bannerman’s patent claim. Bannerman then proceded to claim that these designs were unworkable patents with no survivng prototypes, and should be thrown out as evidence from the trial, and that the Magot gun was not evidence as it came later than his patent.

In response, Winchester decided to build working models of each of the designs to illustrate their defence. During this time they also located a Margot gun prototype. This must have been an immense engineering task for them at this time, as the patent drawings wouldnt have had any of the needed measurements, materials used, and tolerances needed to produce a working model of each. During 1895-96 Winchester engineers including T.C. Johnson and many others, worked on producing these and ended up building working models of each of the designs to prove their viability. These were then test fired and once they were proven to be working models, they were given to Winchester’s lawyers who took them into court and submitted them as further evidence. The lawyers and Winchester himself then offered a live firing demonstration to be held outside behind the courthouse. The court declined the demonstration, but used these models, and other information from previous cases to make its final decision. (see pic below for these examples made by Winchester)

 

-Winchester reproductions of previous patent firearms designs from Europe. Top: Magot 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.

 

-The Magot rifle. Built by Winchester in 1895 for the Bannerman trial.

 

-The Curtis Rifle built by Winchester in 1895. See Ian from Forgotten Weapons video for more info on this one.

 

 

-The Krutzsch rifle built by Winchester in 1895.

 

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 at this trial as well, and was quoted as having admitted in the courtroom, that he had copied the Spencer in some ways, just as others had on other designs, 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 infringed on some parts of the patent, such as in the Colt Lightning, and the Burgess shotgun. Winchester also had attested that a method of operation such as this was not patentable, but rather its mechanism and system by which it did this was. He attested this as it had been determined in past cases, such as those involving Richard Gatling and his crank operated guns in the past decade. Gatlioong himself also had tried to sue others for their designs but was 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).

Christopher M. Spencer was also called into the case as a witness for the prosecution and for his testimony, which covered over 58 pages in the official court record. But despite Spencer also contending that Winchester infringed upon his patents, and that their models did not apply as they were not patented in the USA, the Court ruled against Bannerman. Due to this, Bannerman appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals on January 5, 1900, but the verdict was sustained after just 1 short retrial.

Winchester was awarded their defence, and permitted to market any pump action firearms without any further court trials. Even though the Spencer-Bannerman shotgun sales picked up after the trial, it was too late, as Winchester had already been dominating the market. By this time they had sold more than 532,000 Model 1890 rifles and 34,000 Model 1893 shotguns by 1897, and many millions more would be sold in the coming years. Bannerman returned home after this court trial and continued production of his model 1896 till around 1900, when he would introduce hid new model. This would be the Model 1900, which has a 2nd ejector added to help with extraction, which rides along a slot covered by an unusually tall left side plate(See below)

-My Model 1900 reciever with the tall sideplate

 

-Here we see my Model 1900s action bars, 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 receiver and a spring that pushes it into the slot. This 2nd ejector is used to help extraction, yet it doesnt warrant any change to the side plate. 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 2nd ejector to sink into for it to clear.

Bannermans manual for the Model 1900 also 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 on these was achived by turning the receiver takedown lever downward 90*(do not turn more than this), then unsrewing the mag tube takedown lever until the tube comes off the barrel, and then turning the barrel counter clockwise till it comes out. The mag tube can now be reattached to the barrel at this point for storage.

 

-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 from 1900 to around 1902, before ending right around serial ~21,100 ish. By mid 1902, the sales just werent enough to satisfy him and he decided to switch directions in his business, 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 shotgun business was that Bannerman wanted to give one hundred percent of their companies 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 these machines were sold back to Pratt and Whitney, and other makers in the area at auction for their gun businesses.

 

 

 

End part 2…To be continued. Part 3 HERE

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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