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Military Surplus Stores & Sales Army / Navy Surplus Stores and Stories Military Vehicle Surplus Sales - Yards & Dealers Brian's Military Jeeps of WWII - Surplus WWII Jeep parts & Accessories Cosmoline - What's that? Speaking of Army Surplus... What about those $50 Jeep in a Crate Stories?
Army / Navy Surplus Stores Often noted for their low prices, an "Army Surplus Store' or "Navy Surplus Store" is a retail store that sells surplus military and/or surplus industrial inventory. Military surplus are goods, equipment, clothing and other items, that the governments military branches found to be in excess to their actual needs. These surplus items were sold at public auction by the government when no longer needed by the military. Entrepreneurs would then buy these goods cheaply and then resell them at surplus stores after a slight markup. The surplus was almost always military, government or industrial excess (although now some items are being produced in China specially for the 'Army Surplus' trade, since the real US Military surplus has been almost entirely sold out for several years). Surplus stores sell items such as clothing, jackets, helmets, canvas packs and pouches, and general equipment that was intended for the various branches of the military, but that the military never got around to using in many cases. Usually the goods sold by the military at the government auctions are clothing, equipment, tools, and hardware of a generally useful nature. Only very rarely does a Government Surplus Auction include weapons, ammunition, or vehicles. (For more info on buying Government Surplus Jeeps, there is a link at the bottom). In spite of that, guns and ammo are often found at surplus stores. Sometimes the items being sold in the Army Surplus Store are in used condition and other times the items are NOS - New Old Stock - meaning the item was purchased new, stored, but never used by the military. Many items are in new condition because the item is no longer needed by the military as the technology of warfare makes older versions become obsolete. Surplus stores may also sell items that are past their use-by date but are still usable. Surplus stores often sell hiking, backpacking, and camping equipment as well as survival supplies.
By the early 1900s, Bannerman's supply of military goods was staggering. Entire nations were his customers. It is estimated that "50 percent of the commemorative cannons placed in public areas were purchased through Bannerman's." Countries outfitted whole armies through Bannerman's. During the Russian-Japanese war, Bannerman's filled an order for 100,000 saddles, rifles, knapsacks, haversacks, gun slings, uniforms and 20 million cartridges, as well as a shipload of assorted military goods. (1) Francis Bannerman also contributed cannons, uniforms, and blankets to the U.S. government during World War I.
Francis "Frank" Bannerman was born March 24, 1851, in Dundee, Scotland, and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1854. The family moved to Brooklyn, NY in 1858 where his father established a business selling flags, rope and other articles that he acquired at Navy auctions. While he was still in school, Francis began to collect scrap from sailing ships in New York harbor. He was very successful at this. When his father joined the union army during the Civil War, 13-year-old Francis began running the business.
At the close of the American Civil War, the U.S. government began auctioning off military goods by the ton, with most items being scrapped for their metal. Francis Bannerman was one of the first people to realize that much of what was being sold at scrap prices had a much higher market value - much higher than the scrap metal value. He increased his inventory at the end of the Civil War by buying surplus stock at government auctions and began a military surplus business near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1865 where he purchased and sold the surplus military equipment.
When Bannerman went to California to bid on government cartridge boxes, he avoided heavy rail-freight charges by chartering an entire clipper ship to take his purchases back to New York via Cape Horn. He acquired a huge store of army belt-plates and smelted them down in his front yard, separating the lead from the brass in the process; the salvaged metals were then sold, in what was deemed a profitable undertaking. He converted a peaceful passenger ship into a well-armed man-of-war for a South American government in one week, “a record for speed that could scarcely be duplicated,” he boasted; and in one quick turnaround he bought up thousands of Civil War carbines and sold them in bulk to a New York store that retailed the guns for sixty-nine cents apiece. If they yielded a profit at this retail price, one can only imagine what Bannerman paid for them.
Arms meant more to Frank Bannerman than profits alone. The federal government had a practice of smashing surplus arms under heavy hammers before auctioning them. This destruction scandalized Bannerman:
We remember at the close of the Civil War, making the highest bid at Government sale, on a lot of 11,000 old guns, “veterans of many wars,” part of the lot surrendered by General Lee, classified “Rebel.” The U.S. Ordnance Officer refused to accept our bid for the guns, alleging “that Bannerman would repair the guns and put them into serviceable order, and they would then enter into competition with the now obsolete guns that the Government had for sale.” So this lot of “Rebel” guns, which contained many heirlooms of patriots who had fought with Washington and Jackson, was consigned to the fire, and the old burnt locks and barrels sold to us later as scrap iron. (2)
In 1867 the business occupied a ship chandlery on Atlantic Avenue engaged in the purchase of worn rope for paper making. Under his guidance, Bannerman's became the world's largest buyer of surplus military equipment. As more and more material was acquired, it moved several times, finally arriving at 501 Broadway, in Manhattan.
The store on the 500 block of Broadway opened in 1897 to outfit volunteers for the Spanish-American War. Their storeroom and showroom took up a full block at 501 Broadway, and opened to the public in 1905. The New York Herald said of it that, "No museum in the world exceeds it in the number of exhibits."
Banner's company bought weapons directly from the Spanish government before it evacuated Cuba; and then purchased over 90 percent of the Spanish guns, ammunition, and equipment captured by the United States military which was auctioned off by the United States government. So much equipment and ammunition was bought after the Spanish-American War that the laws of New York city forced them to look for storage outside of the city limits. Since they couldn't store the over 90 tons of explosives in New York, they bought Bannerman Island on the Hudson River near West Point.
The Bannermans purchased Pollepel Island (known afterwards as Bannerman's Island) from the Taft family in 1900 as a safe storage site. Mr. Bannerman began the construction of a recreated Scottish castle and simple residence in 1901. Equipment of every description as well as ammunition were shipped there for storage until sold. The castle, clearly visible from the shore of the Hudson River, served as a giant advertisement for his business. On the side of the castle facing the western bank of the Hudson, Mr. Bannerman had "Bannerman's Island Arsenal" cast into the wall.
Cannon? Bannerman offered them with twenty-four hundred rounds of shot “at bargain prices,” ready to be shipped within five minutes of the receipt of an order (“no red tape with our quick deliveries”). Gatling guns? The firm stocked two hundred, with eight million rounds of ball cartridges “for any government War Department desiring to equip their army with a first-class outfit.” A machine that could cast over a hundred thousand bullets a day? Bannerman could give you a price. An ancient crossbow? A Zulu warrior’s lance? A Congo blow-gun arrow? See Bannerman—price: $75, $6.75, and $1.00 each, respectively. He acquired these curiosities through foreign agents and on his own frequent arms-buying forays abroad. (2)
Not only did the company offer for sale an amazing variety of weaponry and accessories, they took pride in showing the evolution of weapons and included many pages of descriptions, drawings, photos and even patent applications. They are a great reference resource to Militaria collectors today. Many collectors claim that the Bannerman catalog is the best book ever written on weapons of war. Each catalogue is a weapon history book in itself, although the quality of the printing deteriorated over the years as the staff aged and pages were reproduced.
The Bannermans army surplus catalogs were published regularly from the 1880s to the 1960s. Their post 1900 catalogs can offer up to approximately 350 illustrated pages and feature a wide assortment of items from African arrows with metal barbed points to a Moroccan sheik saddle in serviceable order. The firm also did a brisk business in martial antiques, supplying the veterans’ post wanting a front-lawn cannon, the museum seeking a suit of armor, the collector looking for a seventeenth-century blunderbuss, or the schoolboy dreaming of crossed sabers hanging in his room.
The company even had links from the famous iron chain that had been strung across the Hudson River during the American Revolution as a device to snag British ships. The links were cut into cross sections a quarter of an inch thick, polished bright, stamped “Section of chain used by General George Washington, West Point, New York, 1778.” The last of these links to the Revolution were sold in the 1940’s for $2.75 apiece.
Bannerman also conducted a lively trade in less lethal wares. He sold surplus military uniforms to bands, fire departments, and patriotic organizations. Seventy-five years after the Civil War the firm was still offering Union army uniforms “in the original cases, free from moths and in perfect condition.” Buffalo Bill used Bannerman supplies in his act. The cast of My Maryland, a 1927 musical with a Civil War theme, was outfitted in original blue and gray uniforms from Bannerman’s. (2) "To my generation, Bannerman's was a real evocative name," says Bob Parker, now a man nearing 70. "My brother and I used to get the catalog in New Mexico where we lived in the 1930s, and buy kepis (hats) issued in the Civil War for seventy five cents! A lot of things came in their original crates, never unpacked. It was a great place for tack, cots, tents, saddles ... I still have my kepi from 1935." Bannerman's supplied countless theatrical productions with uniforms for costumes, and many illustrators and painters with military detail. (1).
Here is a list of the known Bannerman's catalogs. If you have further info on Bannerman's catalogues, please email me. 1888, 1889, 1900, 1903, 1904, 1907, 1910 (first large catalog), 1913, 1917, 1923, 1925, 1927, 1933, 1936, 1940 (#25 - 75th anniversary), 1945, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1954 (#28), 1955, 1966 (100th anniversary)
Bannerman's 1904 catalog states: "This catalogue contains illustrations, descriptions and history of the largest stock in the world of Military Goods from Government Auctions, and is considered by many as the authority on Military Weapons, giving information found in no other catalogue or book." It also states "Some of our customers think this catalogue is worth its weight in gold.", which is something that still holds true 108+ years later
The principal feature on the island is Bannerman's Castle, an abandoned military surplus warehouse. It was built in the style of a castle by businessman Francis Bannerman VI (1851–1918). One side of the castle carries the words "Bannerman's Island Arsenal".
Francis Bannerman purchased the island in November 1900, for use as a storage facility for his growing surplus business. In the spring of 1901 he began to build an arsenal on Pollepel Island to provide a safe location to store thirty million surplus munitions cartridges. Bannerman designed the buildings himself and let the constructors interpret the designs on their own. Most of the buildings were devoted to the storage of army surplus, but Bannerman also built another castle in a smaller scale on top of the island near the main structure as a residence. There he often used items from his surplus collection for decoration.
The castle, clearly visible from the shore of the river, served as a giant advertisement for his business. On the side of the castle facing the western bank of the Hudson, Bannerman cast the legend "Bannerman's Island Arsenal" into the wall.
The castle today The island and buildings were bought by New York State in 1967, after the old military merchandise had been removed, and tours of the island were given in 1968. However, on August 8, 1969, fire devastated the Arsenal, and the roofs and floors were destroyed. The island was placed off-limits to the public.
Today, the castle is still the property of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and is mostly in ruins. While the exterior walls still stand, all the internal floors and non-structural walls have since burned down. The island has been the victim of vandalism, trespass, neglect and decay. Several old bulkheads and causeways that submerge at high tide present a serious navigational hazard.
On-island guided hard hat tours were recently made available through the Bannerman's Castle Trust. The castle is easily visible to the riders of the Metro-North Railroad's Hudson line and Amtrak. The sign is easily visible to southbound riders.
Sometime during the week prior to Sunday, December 28, 2009, parts of the castle collapsed. Officials estimate 30-40 percent of the structure's front wall and about half of the east wall collapsed. It was reported by a motorist and by officials on the Metro North Railroad, which runs along the edge of the Hudson River