Thursday, June 13, 2013

Firearms named after people: Henry Deringer

Henry Deringer (1786-1868) was an American gunsmith today best remembered for inventing the pocket Deringer pistol, often misspelled as Derringer, a term which came to mean any “palm pistol”.

Some comments:

Deringer’s father was a colonial gunsmith.


Deringer lived and worked in Philadelphia.


He specialised in the manufacture of quality sporting rifles and fine duelling pistols.


Deringer’s original small pistols were large calibre with short barrels. They were developed about 1825 and were muzzle loading.


Deringer did not patent his designs and they were hugely copied by imitators. Some copies were even sold under the name Deringer, one firm hiring a tailor named John Deringer to work for it so that the name Deringer could be used on their pistols.

Deringer fought the imitators through the courts and this was continued by his company after his death. The Deringer vs Plate ruling, in which the California Supreme Court ruled in the company's favour, became a landmark in trademark law.


Deringer’s pistol was also commonly known as a Philadelphia Deringer.


Derringers were often used by women in that they could be concealed in a purse or stocking. They were also known as muff pistols in that they could be concealed in a muff.


The original derringer pistol was a single shot firearm but the Remington version fired two shots by having another barrel under the top barrel. It spun upwards for reloading.  Further advances in design reflected changes in the ammunition fired.

4 shot 1861 Remington Deringer


Because of their concealability and killing power at close range, derringers were often used as assassin’s tools.


John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln with a Philadelphia Deringer in 1865. A reporter referred to the pistol as a “Derringer”, with a double “r”, which mistake was continued and resulted in small pistols becoming known by that spelling.

The Philadelphia Deringer pistol used by Booth to assassinate Lincoln.

By the way . . .

How is this for even smaller, a ring gun:

A 19th century French ring gun.  It did little damage and virtually had to be pressed against the skin of the target.

A keyring gun

Keyring gun

Pen guns

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