Concealed carry is a big topic in the firearms community right now. People discuss which calibers are best, which position is safest to carry, pros and cons of holsters, and any number of topics that, more often that not, end up involving a degree of subjectivity. However, concealed firearms as a whole are nothing new. They go back to flintlock ammunition systems and there would probably be matchlock versions if people didn't have to worry about setting their clothes on fire when they carried.
Prior to calling them derringers, these pint-sized pistols were referred to as pocket pistols, muff pistols, palm pistols, and various other pseudonyms. Only the advent and popularity of the Philadephia Deringer (note the spelling with a single 'r') developed by Henry Deringer, did the term become a generic, ubiquitous, term for any small, concealable handgun. It also adopted a second letter "r" in the spelling, perhaps to differentiate it from the original Deringers.
While some of the earliest pocket pistols have have been flintlock, true Deringers were percussion style handguns produced from 1852 - 1868. Around 15,000 of them were produced in that time in a variety of barrel lengths, and factory records imply that they were nearly all sold in matching pairs. After all in the case of a missed shot or a misfire, one wouldn't reload a Deringer, but simply draw a "fresh" one. The average price was around $15 - $20 for a pair, with embellished versions bringing higher prices. Not only would they spawn dozens of imitators, but the gun's popularity would also inspire many gun makers to come up with derringers of their own design. This article will look at pocket pistols of several makers, in an attempt to show the wide variety produced to satisfy a voracious demand by the public.
Lot 1144: Outstanding Presentation Cased Set of Philadelphia Deringer Percussion Pistols with Accessories
This set of Deringers was featured in last week's article regarding the Lincoln assassination, but it is also appropriate to include here. The pistols seen above are the style Deringers are most known for: the bird's head stock, pineapple-style finial engraving on the trigger guards, and mounted with German silver. Both are some of the smaller Deringer designs, but the one appearing upside-down in this photo is also known as the "Peanut" Deringer for its extremely small size and only 1 7/8 inch barrel.
This Colt Third Model derringer is silver plated, features mother of pearl grips, and is possibly New York engraved. These tiny shooters were manufactured 1875 - 1912 and this particular model has a front sight for the optimistic user. It remains in very fine condition and quite attractive.
Lot 1160: Extraordinary Factory Engraved Gold and Silver Plated Williamson Derringer with Maple Stock
Please click on the link to this gun to see an additional photo of the case's exterior. The gun itself is worthy of such a case. The Remington Type II (a.k.a. Model 3) derringer would have been made around 1888-1889 and still has its original nickel plating. Adding to its high condition are sharp checkering on the grips and nitre blue parts. Its low serial number of 413 adds to its collectablity.
The second of the Colt Third Model derringers in this article is a masterfully done piece. Its copious factory engraving was performed by Master Engraver K.C. Hunt, one of the finest Master Engravers of our time. I strongly recommend visiting the item's listing to see even more angles of his incredible work. The frame having been left bare after the engraving shows a handsome brass, but under the grips and barrel the original nickel plating may still be seen. This is absolutely phenomenal work! With all this rich engraving, one might wonder where the artist signed his work. Wonder no more.
Lot 1159: Elaborate Exhibition Grade Gold Embellished and Relief Engraved Sharps Patent Style Pepperbox Pistol
Showing that not only Deringers were copied, this Spanish pistol attempts to replicate the Sharps Model 2A four shot pistol in rather spectacular form. Gold inlays cover the barrel, floral engravings curls around the receiver, and it all ends in a sharp black hard rubber grip.
Exhibition Quality Factory Engraved Marlin Model 32 Standard 1875 Revolver with Desirable DeGress "Tiffany" Style Grips
|Lot 1172: "The True Companion" Double Shot Percussion Knuckleduster Pistol|
|Lot 1162: Scarce Blue Chicago Fire Arms Co. Protector Palm Pistol with Scrimshaw Side Plates|
|Lot 112: Scarce Engraved Marston Three-Barrel Derringer with Desirable Sliding Spear Point Dagger|
|Lot 1313: Colt Third Model Derringer with Leather Case|
As you can see, with the huge selection of rarity, beauty, and fascinating designs, this could have just as well turned into its very own book. With any number of barrels, finishes, grips, sizes, calibers, embellishments to choose from, collecting derringers can be a highly personalized endeavor. As I've heard jokingly mentioned at several gun shows, "The best part about collecting derringers, is that you can transport a whole collection in a shoe box." This same sentiment is often echoed by collectors who display their much larger, heavier guns. Looks like these pocket guns have put their diminutive size to yet another good use, even in the 21st century.