The Civil War was a catalyst for firearm technology.
At the beginning of the war, the single-shot musket was still common. By the end, the metallic cartridge had proved its worth and was taking over armories around the country. Colt’s first real metallic cartridge handgun wasn’t a revolver but a derringer. Today we’ll discuss the Colt Derringers and how these were prime-time concealed carry pistols of the era.
Prior to the derringers, Colt began manufacturing conversions for their revolvers and made numerous unsuccessful attempts to enter the cartridge market. The main issue that kept Colt out of the metallic cartridge revolver business was the patent held by Rollin White, who had an exclusive relationship with Smith and Wesson.
When the patent finally expired in 1870, Colt entered the metallic cartridge market quickly and surely. They purchased a company called the National Arms Company, which was known for producing single-shot derringers that had escaped White’s patent by using a unique round. They gained popularity and were a known quantity. Colt began slapping their name on the derringers and making changes along the way.
The Colt Derringers
Colt made three generations of derringers. All of the Colt derringers used a round known as .41 Rimfire. While the bullet was .41 caliber, the round itself was fairly small. It occasionally went by the name .41 Short. The little round propelled a 130-grain projectile at 425 feet per second. It’s not exactly a magnum round, but it likely ensured the small pistols were easy to shoot.
The first generation of Colt Derringers was the smallest, with very short barrels, and they used a one-piece frame and grip combination. The barrels were a mere 2.5 inches long, and the guns were made from either brass or iron.
The second model derringers featured the same brass or iron designs depending on the metal Colt had on hand at the time. These guns featured wood grips instead of brass and were a bit simpler to produce and adding a new sense of style to the handsome weapons.
The first and second models featured a barrel that rotated to the side and downward to access the bore. This allowed the user to manually eject and load the next round. This system worked, but it was complicated, and extra complication meant extra expense.
A Colt employee named Andrew Thuer came around and simplified the design. This became the Third Model of the Colt Derringers. These guns used a brass frame with either a bare finish or a nickel-plated finish. The barrel was steel with either a blued or nickel-plated design. These guns featured a barrel that just swung to the side. It was simple but very functional and easy to use.
The Fourth Model Derringer
The Colt Derringer used in this article is actually the ‘fourth’ Model. The Fourth Model is technically one of the Colt Derringers, but not really. It wasn’t produced until the 1950s and was produced primarily due to the popularity of western films at the time. This is a .22 Short model of the Thuer Third model derringer. These are marked Colt but built by Butler. It’s a clone of the older Model with a rechambering for a more common cartridge. It bears mentioning but isn’t in the same vein as the first three Colt Derringers.
Packing Colt Derringers
These derringers were often sold as a pair. They offered very little firepower, so if you carried one, you might want to carry two. They are exceptionally small and didn’t necessarily fire a fight-stopping caliber. Their small size did make them quite easy to carry. These tiny guns were easy to conceal and difficult to detect.
Many towns throughout the west and most certainly in the east prohibited carrying weapons within city or town limits. The Colt Derringers were an easy option that could be hidden easily and remain undetected. They didn’t have a long effective range but could be fired across a poker table well enough.
These were single-action, hammer-fired guns. The user simply needed to draw and cock the hammer of the weapon. A small front sight is optimistic but present. The triggers are light and short, helping at least a little in the accuracy department.
While small and chambering a rather weak caliber, they could still be deadly. Obviously, they had to be used at close range, and with the medical technology of the time, it could be quite deadly. The gun you can carry is better than the Colt Navy you leave on your saddle.
These are the Ruger LCPs of their era and represented a small but reliable option for deep concealed carry. The Colt Derringers are a stepping stone in the road to modern concealed carry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army.
He serves as an NRA-certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms-based hobbies.
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