While many of Henry Deringer’s single-shot pistols were to be found in the pockets and purses of an unending rabble of nefarious characters, they were just as likely to be in the discrete possession of gentlemen who chose not to appear armed, and during the Civil War often stuffed into the waist sashes or gun belts of soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Philadelphia Deringer was truly an everyman’s gun. With all due respect to Samuel Colt’s five-shot, .31 caliber, Model 1849 pocket pistol, the best-selling percussion revolver ever made, the single-shot Henry Deringer was destined to become the most famous and infamous handgun of the mid 19th century.
Henry Deringer, Jr. was born into gunmaking; his father was one of the most respected Kentucky rifle makers in Colonial America. After apprenticing, first with his father and then with the Virginia Manufactory in Richmond, Henry Deringer, Jr. established his own gun making business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Initially Henry Jr. had worked with his father at the newly incorporated Philadelphia Rifle Manufactory producing flintlock rifles for the U.S. government, building Trade Guns, and other more elaborate hunting arms for sportsmen. Henry Jr. also began manufacturing small, high-quality flintlock pistols around 1825, quickly moving to the new and easier to handle caplock design shortly after. By 1841 Henry Deringer, Jr. had become one of the most celebrated gunmakers in America and he owed it all the little single-shot pistols that bore his name and Philadelphia address.
Even before the Civil War, carrying one or two Deringer single-shots had become common among Calvary men on the frontier. While not a military-issued sidearm, it was wise for a solder fighting against hostiles, as well as Mexican soldiers during the Mexican-America War (1846-1848), to have a brace of the little hammer guns tucked into a belt or secreted into the pocket of their tunic. Longer barreled Deringer pistols were even fitted with belt hooks to make them more easily accessible.
For more on this check out issue #74 of Guns of the Old West