The first “deringer” was made, shockingly, by Henry Deringer of Pennsylvania. Back in the 1850’s, a Deringer was a small, large bore, single shot, percussion fired handgun. The early Deringer pistols were tremendously popular, and spawned an entire industry of imitation pistols. The imitation pistols are actually where the common modern spelling of “derringer” is derived from, the imitation gun makers often added the additional “r” to the proper spelling of Deringer’s last name. As most history and gun buffs know, a Deringer pistol was used by John Wilkes Boothe to assassinate President Lincoln. Although a gruesome example, it demonstrated the reason why “derringers” were such popular weapons in their day. At close range, they were devastatingly effective.
Although with his death the true Deringer pistols died out, the concept of the derringer was carried into the age of cartridge pistols; and through the silver screen was firmly embedded in the minds of America. If you ask most people what they think of when you say “derringer”, they’ll probably conjure an image of the 1866 Remington Double Derringer, which was chambered for .41 Rimfire.
Derringers are still available today; probably the best on the market would be the derringers made by Bond Arms. When you say, “Wide selection” they really do come through. From derringers chambered for .410 shotgun shells all the way across the board to .22 Long Rifle, you can find it in a Bond Arms derringer. If I were shopping for a derringer, I’d probably get one of their models with the trigger guard, chambered for 10mm. Mostly because it’d give me something to do with all the 10mm ammo I have sitting around.
You can also find derringers from Cobra Enterprises and the American Derringer Company. Cobra Ent. has traditional pattern derringers, chambered for up .38 Spec/9mm cartridges, but nothing with a bit more “oomphf”. American Derringer does have your more traditional .45 Colt derringers in their line up, as well a reproduction of the High Standard .22 Magnum derringer (one of which my father is hoarding). Actually, looking around their site, American Derringer has some pretty interesting guns.
Although not “true” derringers, you can also find some truly compact pistols from North American Arms. Those have been covered in great detail at other places, so I won’t spend a lot of time on them here. However, their .22 Magnum revolvers are the lightest .22 Magnum revolvers in the solar system.
In the modern world of high capacity, super compact pocket rocket autos, what possible utility could a derringer serve as a defensive weapon? When it comes to derringers, there isn’t really a whole lot of point to carrying one in a small bore, such as a .32 or a .38. You can get more rounds of .32 from a Kel Tec, or just carry a J-frame if you want a .38. Where a derringer shines is in its ability to pack two really big bullets into such a compact frame. Sure, recoil will be murder, and after those two rounds you’re pretty much SOL – but there are some people (myself included) who would take two rounds of 10mm over 7 rounds of .32 almost any day of the week.
This part is personal, but if you’re shopping for a derringer for personal defense, don’t bother with any caliber that doesn’t start with a “4” (or 10mm). Small caliber derringers make for neat collector’s items, but as far as defensive pistols go…well, they beat a pointy stick. With that in mind, I love derringers. I think they’re cool little guns. If anyone from say, Bond Arms, reads this and wants to send me a pistol to evaluate, you can email me at admiralahab (at) gmail (dot) com. Please?