derringer n : a pocket pistol of large caliber with a short barrel
EtymologyNamed after gunsmith Henry Derringer
The term derringer is a genericized misspelling of the last name of Henry Deringer, a famous maker of small pocket pistols in the 1800s. Many copies of the original Philadelphia Deringer pistol were made by other gun makers worldwide, and the name was often misspelled; this misspelling soon became a generic term for any pocket pistol. The original Deringer pistol was a single shot muzzleloading pistol; with the advent of cartridge firearms, pistols began to be produced in the modern form still known as a "derringer".
A derringer is generally the smallest usable handgun of a given caliber. They were frequently used by women because they are easily concealable in a purse, or as a stocking gun. Derringers are not repeating firearms—repeating mechanism such as used on semi-automatic handguns or revolvers would add significant bulk to the gun, defeating the purpose. The original cartridge derringers held only a single round, usually a pinfire or rimfire cartridge, usually around a .40 caliber, and the barrel pivoted sidways on the frame to allow access to the breech for reloading. The famous Remington derringer design doubled the capacity, while maintaining the compact size, by adding a second barrel on top of the first, and pivoting the barrels upwards to reload. Each barrel then held one round, and a cam on the hammer alternated between top and bottom barrels. The Remington derringer was in .41 Rimfire caliber, and achieved wide popularity. The .41 Rimfire bullet moved very slowly at about 425 feet per second. (compare to the 850 fps of a modern .45 ACP) It could be seen in flight, but at very close range (such as at a casino or saloon card table) it could easily kill. It was sold from 1866 to 1935.
Even with the advent of smaller, higher powered cartridges made possible by the use of smokeless powder rather than the black powder used in the 1800s and before, the classic Remington design is still popular; a Remington pattern derringer in .38 Special is still smaller than the most compact .25 ACP semiautomatic, and provides far superior terminal ballistic performance in its two shots than the .25 ACP does with six or seven. While the classic Remington design is a single action, manufacturers have also made double action derringers, including some four shot models, with the barrels stacked in a 2 x 2 block. The "COP" derringer, made in Torrance, CA, provided four shots of .357 Magnum, still in a package not much larger than a .25 ACP automatic, and significantly more compact than a similar revolver. The COP derringer was invented by Robert Hillberg and closely resembled his earlier work on insurgency weapons.
A related design, often grouped with derringers since it fits no other standard classification, is the Semmerling pistol. It is a five shot, .45 ACP pistol with a manual repeater: the barrel mechanism is manually pulled forward to eject the fired round, then pushed back to chamber the next round. These pistols were originally built for the U.S. Army, and the few available on the civilian market are highly sought after due to their unique combination of high power, large capacity, and tiny size. Another military pistol that is truly a derringer design is the Liberator Pistol, a .45 ACP insurgency weapon dropped behind Axis lines in WWII.
- The Booth Deringer--Genuine artifact or Replica?, a report of an FBI analysis of the Booth Deringer, made after rumors that the original had been stolen and replaced with a replica.
- The Texas Defender, Bond Arms .45acp/410 Shotshell
derringer in German: Derringer
derringer in Japanese: デリンジャー
derringer in Polish: Deringer
derringer in Slovak: Deringer
derringer in Slovenian: Deringer
derringer in Serbo-Croatian: Deringer