Derringers – The Past, Present, and Future

Who doesn’t love a Derringer? These pistols offer you a weapon that’s about as small as a gun can be.

They are very simple with few moving parts, and tend to be very easy to conceal. In fact, that was the purpose of the first derringers. While small guns had existed before, a man named Henry Deringer created a gun known as the Philadelphia Deringer. This started a trend of ultra-small pistols containing a shot or two, or sometimes four, that were not automatics or revolvers, or even pepperboxes. Today we are going to dive into the world of derringers and discuss their origins as percussion pistols to the modern style of the derringer.

Is it Derringers or Deringers?

Henry Deringer created the Philadelphia Deringer in 1853. These ultra-small percussion pistols chambered a .41 caliber ball in their rifled barrels. These little guns were fairly popular and were produced until 1868, with over 15,000 sold. These small guns were easy to conceal and allowed normal people to defend themselves from the outlaws of the era.

As small single-shot pistols, they didn’t offer much firepower and were typically sold in pairs. These guns found themselves concealed in boots, vest pockets, and up sleeves. They became popular enough that imitators arose and would copy everything from their design to their markings.

You may have noticed that Deringer and derringer are two different words. Deringer would be the more appropriate name, but then President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth and his Philadelphia Deringer. This was massive news, and many newspapers began spelling Deringer and derringer, and the world accepted it as the new name for these little pistols.

After the Civil War, percussion weapons were quickly fading away to metallic cartridge options. Derringers evolved and followed suit.

The Colt, Sharps, and Remington Models

Smith and Wesson and Rollin White owned the patent to breechloading revolvers, and that made it tough for other companies to get into the metallic cartridge industry. The year the patent expired, Colt purchased a company called National Arms Company. This company produced metallic cartridge single-shot derringers. They had been sued by White previously, but with the patent expired, Colt could dive into the metallic cartridge world without worry.

Colt produced three generations of these revolvers in a .41 caliber rimfire cartridge. These guns featured a unique barrel and breech design that had the barrels pivoting sideways to allow the loading of the gun. Colt’s three models of this weapon remain popular, and a 4th model was even produced in the 1950s in .22 Short to capitalize on the popularity of cowboy movies and shows at the time.

The Sharps Derringers offered a slightly thicker gun but got four barrels in a derringer format. These guns used a barrel system that slid forward to load the gun. A revolving firing pin allowed the user to automatically cycle between barrels. These guns came in .22, .30, and .32 Rimfire. They ceased production after the death of Christian Sharp.

Remington produced the Model 95Dderinger, which featured two barrels, one on top of the other and a hinging action. These became quite popular and were produced from 1866 to 1935. The Model 95 is what most people picture when you say derringer. Interestingly enough, they used the correctly spelled Deringer for their firearm. These guns only came in .41 Rimfire.

Modern Derringers

Plenty of replicas of old west derringers still exist, but on the modern front, they are few and far between. High Standard produced a very cool two-barrel .22 model with a double action trigger for a good bit and later a .38 special version. The COP .357 had a short run as a four-barrel .357 magnum derringer that ended up failing.

The Double Tap derringers are probably the most modern example, but they failed to gain many sales. A company called Altor makes a single shot 9mm and .380 ACP, but it’s fairly large. The most exciting modern derringer is likely the Trailblazer Lifecard, a folding single .22LR or .22 Magnum model.

Outside of the LifeCard, derringers just aren’t that popular or useful. With the advent of micro .380s, it’s tough to justify a derringer. Heck, a KelTec P32 is smaller than most derringers and still packs six rounds of .32 ACP. Sadly, outside f plinking and old west LARP, the derringer isn’t likely to ever be a popular option.

Even so, sometimes plinking is enough, and in that role, they can be a little handful.

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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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4 thoughts on “Derringers – The Past, Present, and Future”

  1. The best derringer available is the Bond Arms, made in Granbury Texas. Interestingly, a picture of one is in the article but it isn’t mentioned at all. These are high quality, well made Texas guns.

    1. Yes Ralph, Bond arms deringers are nice and come in a variety of ones choosing. With 2 different calibers if desired., If the first one doesn’t work, the second one will, along with spooking the rest of the herd of wild animals.

  2. Very nice article. Thanks for the history of the derringer. I actually have a .41 rimfire cartridge I picked up somewhere. Many years ago I had a double barrel derringer chambered in .44 special or magnum, I don’t remember which. That was a bear to shoot but fun at the same time.

    Thanks again,

  3. This author writes up a bunch of history about derringers, which is interesting. But then he completely ignores the leading current derringer, Bond Arms.

    Bond Arms of Texas has a whole suite of derringers. Even a 9mm for less than $400 retail. We’re waiting on Crossbreed to make holsters for ours.

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