The Deringer pistol is an iconic pocket pistol designed by Henry Deringer in 1825. Similar guns by other gun designers and manufacturers are known as "derringer pistols."
Famous gun maker, Henry Deringer, was the son of another gun maker, Henry Deringer Sr. After learning under his father’s tutelage and serving an apprenticeship in Virginia, the younger Henry Deringer opened his own gunsmithing shop in Pennsylvania when he was just 20 years old.
In the early years of his business, Deringer’s bread and butter came in the form of contracts from the United States government. The young gunsmith was contracted to produce weapons for the military and to produce the government-issued guns for Native American tribes.
In time, however, Deringer began focusing on the production of high-end pistols and rifles. As his reputation grew, he no longer needed government contracts to support his business. In 1825, Deringer designed his first short-barreled pistol. This design evolved for several years, resulting in the Philadelphia Deringer that made a household name out of its designer. This gun was produced from 1852 through 1868.
Unfortunately, Deringer had no idea how popular his design would be and never patented it. It wasn’t long before other gun designers and manufacturers were producing their own pocket pistols, remarkably similar in design to Deringer’s. Some even began to use the name, Derringer (with two Rs), which eventually became an eponym
It was a true Philadelphia Deringer, though, that gained notoriety as the gun that was used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
The first Deringer was chambered for a .41 caliber, however, the early black powder versions were also chambered for .31, .44, .45, and .50 calibers. All were cap and ball muzzle loaders with relatively high muzzle velocity
The generic derringers have been produced to fire anything from a ..22 short all the way up to a .44.
Only about 15,000 Philadelphia Deringers were produced and since production ended in 1868, the original pistols are relatively rare. As such, these guns are considered to be collectors’ items. A true find for a collector would be a pair of Deringers as they were typically sold in sets of two.
Beyond their rarity, original Deringers were the first guns of their kind. When you couple that with the age of the guns, you have a firearm that is highly attractive to many collectors.
Because of the relative rarity of the Philadelphia Deringer, they aren’t going to be found in most gun shops, pawn shops, or even gun shows. Even if they did show up in one of these places, they are distinctive looking enough that most shop owners will likely recognize what they have and sell it at a premium price. They do appear regularly at gun auctions, though, and can sometimes be found in gun classified ads.
Depending upon its condition, an original and authentic Philadelphia Deringer can range in price from $500 to several thousand dollars. Derringer pistols made by other manufacturers during the same period can also cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars. On the other hand, easy-to-find kit replicas can be had for as little as $25.
A Deringer pistol is kind of a tricky gun to collect because the originals are rare while the generic derringer pistols are everywhere. To make matters even worse, replicas of the original Deringer have been made for decades, adding more confusion to the mix. A true Philadelphia Deringer, though, will be marked with the words, "Deringer Philadel" (note the single R and missing "phia"). It will be a percussion gun with a single barrel and a walnut stock.