1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 Willey's, Inc. Records

 Firearms dealers, Providence, R.I.

 Records, 1911-1965

 Size: 2.5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 1024

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, September 1998

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Grafton H. Willey (1856-1931) was a Vermont native who opened a pawn shop in Washington, D.C. While heading back to Vermont for a family visit in 1891, he spent a few hours in Providence waiting for a train connection, and wandered into a pawn shop in the "Yardstick Building" on Dorrance Street, which he promptly agreed to buy. He then moved his family to Providence and set up business as the Hub Loan Company. The company moved to a larger location at 77 Exchange Place in 1921. By the time of the founder's death in 1931, he owned six stores scattered throughout northern Rhode Island. Most of his estate was liquidated, but the original store was incorporated as Willey's Inc. in 1933. It continued to be known as the Hub Loan Company.

            Grafton H. Willey Jr. (1892-1971) soon bought out the other heirs and became the sole proprietor of Willey's. The business by this point catered to several different clientele. It continued to provide small loans using jewelry, appliances and other items as collateral, either gathering interest on the loans or placing the items up for sale. Willey's developed a substantial retail jewelry trade. It also became an important regional wholesaler and retailer of sporting goods, which at that time meant primarily fishing and camping supplies, and firearms. In conjunction with this trade, Willey's Target Range was opened on the second floor at 75 Exchange. Finally, model airplanes and cars became a small side line, as did harmonicas and other musical instruments.

            In 1936, Grafton H. Willey Jr. acquired the shop of longtime Providence sporting goods dealer Andrew Harris (1850-1936) at 51 Washington Street, which was then incorporated as Andrew Harris, Inc. Though owned mostly by Willey, Harris Inc. was operated as a distinct business. Marion Essex served as the president and manager, and became a minority stockholder.

            In 1954, Andrew Harris Inc. moved to 75 Exchange (the site of the old target range) in an effort to consolidate the businesses. Willey's was severely damaged by flooding during Hurricane Carol in September of 1954; the selling floor was inundated by over eight feet of water. Within two years, Andrew Harris Inc. was liquidated, and Willey's Inc. went into receivership soon afterward. Willey Jr. purchased Willey's back from the receivers in 1958, but faced increased retail competition from department stores, and liquidated the company in 1965.


Providence city directories

Conversation with Grafton H. Willey III

Return to top

Scope and content:

            The bulk of these records relate to sales of firearms at both Andrew Harris and Willey's. Federal law required careful logs to be kept of all purchases and sales, with particularly detailed records being kept for handguns (pistols and revolvers). All older records from the Hub Loan Company were lost during the 1938 hurricane, and most of their records from 1938 to 1954 were severely damaged in the 1954 hurricane. However, a wide variety of records survive from the period from 1954 to 1965, as well as the extensive gun logs for Andrew Harris from 1911 to 1956.

Return to top


            These records were a gift of Grafton H. Willey III in 1998. Willey had worked for eight years in his father's store before beginning a long career as an attorney; he later served as president of the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Return to top

Processing note:

Return to top


Willey's Inc. / Hub Loan Company:

Firearm registration books:

Box 4, folder 1. 1938-1941 (extremely water-damaged)

Box 4, folder 2. 1941-1948 (extremely water-damaged)

Box 4, folder 3. 1949-1954 (extremely water-damaged)

Box 1, folder 1. Rifles and shotguns, 1954-1965

Box 1, folder 2. Handguns, 1954-1965

General records:

Box 1, folder 3. Cash book, 1959-1960

Box 2 (oversized). Daily cash summary, 1949-1957

Box 1, folder 4. Firearms correspondence, 1964-1965

Box 1, folder 5. Inventory, 1960

Box 1, folder 6. Handgun application forms, 1959-1964

Box 3.                        Jewelry inventory book, 1952-1965

Box 1, folder 7. Miscellaneous papers, 1938-1965

Box 1, folder 8. Pawn shop correspondence and memoranda, 1965

Andrew Harris Inc.:

Firearm registration books

Box 1, folder 9. Handguns, misc., 1911-1917

Box 1, folder 10. Handguns, misc., 1920-1929

Box 1, folder 11. Handguns, Colt, 1917-1929

Box 1, folder 12. Handguns, Colt, 1921-1929

Box 1, folder 13. Handguns, Colt, 1929-1932

Box 1, folder 14. Handguns, Colt, 1931-1939

Box 1, folder 15. Handguns, Iver Johnson, 1919-1928

Box 1, folder 16. Handguns, Smith & Wesson, 1917-1920

Box 2 (oversized). Handguns, 1940-1947

Box 2 (oversized). Handguns, 1947-1951

Box 2 (oversized). Handguns, 1952-1956

Box 2 (oversized). Rifles and shotguns, 1939-1945

Box 1, folder 17. Rifles and shotguns, 1945-1947

Box 1, folder 18. Rifles and shotguns, 1947-1952

Box 1, folder 19. Rifles and shotguns, 1952-1955

Box 1, folder 20. Permits collected, 1943-1947

Return to top


Firearms industry and trade - Rhode Island - Providence

Andrew Harris Inc. (Providence, R.I.)

Harris, Andrew (1850-1936)

Hub Loan Company (Providence, R.I.)

Hurricanes - 1954

Jewelry industry and trade - Rhode Island - Providence

Pawnbroking - Rhode Island - Providence

Providence, R.I. - Business records

Willey, Grafton H. Jr. (1892-1971)

End of finding aid - return to top