Philadelphia Deringer

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Circa 1864

This derringer was made by Henry Deringer Jr. of Philadelphia. His father, Henry Sr., was also a gunsmith, known for making fine Kentucky rifles. Most so-called Kentucky rifles were actually made in Pennsylvania, and the Deringer family eventually established themselves in Philadelphia.

There were several retailers who had special contracts with Henry Deringer, and he would mark pistols those sold by those dealers with the retailer's name. In San Francisco, the Curry brothers sold authentic Philadelphia Deringers. Deringer's first contract in San Francisco was with Charles Curry; then after Charles died in 1863, his brother Nathaniel Curry took over. The "N Curry" mark on this pistol confirms that it was made between 1863 and February 1868, when Deringer himself died. It has been estimated that about 15,000 pistols were made by Deringer between 1830 and his death in 1868, or roughly 400 pistols per year. The pistol used by John Wilkes Booth to shoot President Lincoln was a Philadelphia Deringer, very much like this one. While Henry Deringer Jr. was most well known for making small single-shot percussion pistols like this one, he also made full-size pistols and duelers.

By the time this pistol was made, the maker's name, often with a small "d" and misspelled with two "r"s, had already become a generic noun for small concealable pocket pistols (especially those of large caliber) that were neither revolvers nor auto-loading pistols. The real Deringer had many competitors and imitators during the time when he was in business. About 50 such imitators are listed in Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms, and there certainly were many European copies as well. Some of the American copies can be considered flagrant forgeries, copying even name and trademarks. Some of the most boldfaced copies were made by Slotter and Company of Philadelphia, a firm founded by former employees of Henry Deringer. Slotter went so far as to hire John Deringer, a tailor by trade, in order to try to give some legitimacy to their use of the trademark Deringer name.

By the late 1860s, percussion pistols like those made by Deringer were being superceded by guns that used metal cartridges. Rimfire cartridges of .41 caliber became especially associated with a new generation of derringer pistols, the market being led by guns like the Remington over-and-under two-shot model and single-shot pistols like the Southerner. Daniel Moore, working with National Firearms, designed two models of single-shot derringers. Colt firearms made their entry into the market for derringers by buying National Firearms and continuing production of Moore's designs before introducing their third-model derringer designed by Alexander Thuer. Numerous pistols in current production are marketed as derringers, although nowadays they are more often found in small calibers like .22 rimfire.

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