Past Treasure of the Month – September 2011

Assortment of Late Nineteenth Century Police Relics
Detective John BoweDet. John Bowe

The Rosenberg Library Museum proudly presented an eclectic assortment of police relics from the late 19th to the early 20th century as the September Treasure of the Month. Like much of America’s common-law tradition, the origins of modern policing trace directly to its English heritage. Ideas concerning community policing, crime prevention, the posse, constables, and sheriffs developed from English law enforcement. In larger cities and towns, constables and the night watch conducted a wide variety of tasks. The night watch reported fires, raised the hue and cry, maintained street lamps, arrested or detained suspicious persons, investigated crimes and walked the rounds. Though some cities suffered from endemic corruption, most officers were even-tempered, reserved, polite, doled out appropriate discipline when necessary, and were not allowed to carry guns.

This month’s treasures included a bull’s-eye police lantern, a set of Bean Patrolmen handcuffs, a set of Tower double locking handcuffs, a rosewood nightstick, and a whistle which belonged to Galveston Police Officer, John Bowe. These artifacts were donated to the Library from the estate of William M. Morgan, Mrs. L. C. Mire, and Mrs. Billie McCulley.

Police equipment

Nineteenth century police officers walked the beat in all types of weather for two to six hours during 12-hour shifts, and spent the remaining time at the station house on reserve. While patrolling officers maintained order and made arrests, they often had to act alone using their intuition, as communications technology was limited. Call boxes on the beat were not introduced until the late 19th century, and the radio and motorized communications did not appear until the mid 1900s. For these reasons, officers carried handcuffs, truncheons, whistles, and notebooks with them.


Imagine patrolling Galveston’s streets at night without the glow of the streetlamps above. Before battery powered flashlights, officers carried “bullseye” or “dark” lanterns which used either sperm whale oil or, later on, kerosene to light the way. The front of the lantern had a distinct convex glass lens which resembled an eye and a metal slide which could block light so that officers could shroud themselves in darkness. Most lanterns were made of japanned tinned steel and had vents on the top to allow smoke to escape and protected the flame from wind. “Japanning” is the term used to describe the process of protecting the lantern from the elements. The tinned steel would be brushed with several coats of dark shellac before the lantern was baked in an oven. This process left police lanterns nearly black in color and resistant to rust and heat.

The bullseye lantern on display was designed by Harry F. Hughes of Brooklyn, New York between the 1870s and 1890s. The lantern is 8″ high, 4″ wide at the base and has a 3″ bullseye lens. There are wire handles at the rear, and on the side is a brass maker’s plate “Hughes Patent – H. Loveridge & Co”. It also has a rear belt clip. This particular lantern does not include a sheet metal curtain which could block out light. Though designed by Hughes, it was manufactured by Henry Loveridge and Co. (1867 – 1927) in Wolverhampton, England. With a similar lantern design, Hughes earned the last known patent issued for police lanterns in 1900. Police lanterns quickly became obsolete with the development of safer and easier to use battery powered flashlights.

Detective BoweDetective John Bowe

Also on display is a set of Bean Patrolman police handcuffs. The Bean handcuff company, founded by E. D. Bean, was a major force in the industry from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century. The Patrolman model was patented November 28, 1882 and featured a unique release button that allowed a police officer to carry the cuffs closed but unlocked.

The cuffs, while built using the Bean patent, were actually manufactured by the armament firm Iver Johnson. On some earlier models only the original Bean patent date appears (on the side of the bow near the lock case) even though they are manufactured in accordance with the Iver Johnson patent. The set on display includes this particular patent date.

The remaining whistle, nightstick, and handcuffs on display once belonged to Officer John F. Bowe (1866 – 1934). Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1866, Bowe moved to Galveston when he was fourteen years old. He held several jobs including Detective at the Buccaneer Hotel, day driver of the patrol wagon, jailer at the county jail, City Detective, and later served as Chief of Detectives. Officer Bowe was also a volunteer fire fighter and a member of Live Oak Camp N. 201 for the Woodmen of the World Police and Firemen’s Insurance Association. While serving his community, Bowe was involved in many dangerous situations that made for compelling news stories including brawls with drunken sailors, taunting notes left by burglars, and the arrest of unruly suffragists.

His service to the community is all the more impressive when one considers his personal loss during the 1900 Storm. Newspaper reports explain that he lost his wife and children during the disaster, but was only on “a month’s leave in recognition of meritorious service” before he returned to duty to help rebuild the city. He later remarried and lived on the island until his death in June 1934.


The whistle included with these articles was used to direct traffic, signal other officers when he needed assistance, and attract the attention of the public. It is an escargot style with a cork ‘pea,’ and probably had a chain that attached it to the officer’s belt. The rosewood nightstick has a decoratively turned handle and an ornate knob at the end and was likely worn with his full dress uniform for special occasions and parades. This type of night stick was first made in 1876, and production continued through the 1960s. Originally it would have had a decorative chord that could be tied in the grooves at the knob and again at the base of the handle.

Bowe’s last article on display is a pair of Tower Double Locking handcuffs. They were made by Tower, a company that dates back to the 1860s and operated until the 1940s. The Double Lock model prevented prisoners from shimming out of their handcuffs with an additional lock setting that froze the catch in place. This feature, coupled with top-notch manufacturing, prompted some experts to call the Tower Double Lock the finest handcuffs ever made in America.