Original U.S. Civil War Era Pair of Philadelphia Pocket Percussion pistols by DERINGER circa 1855-65

Item Description

Original Items. One Set Only. It was a small percussion concealable pistol made by "DERINGER" that John Wilkes Boothe used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater in 1865. By this action alone the name Deringer entered national mind and language of the United States being linked to " an Assassin's weapon". Now spelled with two consecutive "R"s the term DERRINGER is part of everyday life.

So famous did Henry Deringer become that almost every Gun Maker in Philadelphia start copying his product despite the fact that he made supposedly up to 15,000 units over his lifetime. They were traditionally sold in pairs or "braces," but today according to research, original pairs are almost never encountered today.

Here, from a U.S. Collection formed in the 1960's, is an original Pair of these percussion "Philadelphia Deringer" pistols. Classic lines with 3" rifled barrels, in .41 caliber, muzzle loading complete with their small wood brass-tipped ram rods. The iron metalwork such as the lock plate and trigger guard are all foliage engraved overall as was standard. The nose cap, barrel wedge escutcheons, butt strap and other fittings are Nickel Silver (German Silver), as is typical. The two barrels are clearly marked DERINGER on the flat tops.

Both pistols are in excellent condition, and are fully functional. They hold half and full cock correctly. The stocks are in great condition, without any cracks or major damage. The checkering on the grips is still strong, and the wood color excellent. Metalwork is good, with no signs of major corrosion and a great patina. We did not clean or restore these, to preserve the great patina.

Now extremely hard to fine especially in untouched condition from an old 1960's Collection after 50 years of storage.

History of the "Philadelphia Deringer"

The Philadelphia Deringer was a small percussion handgun designed by Henry Deringer (1786–1868) and produced from 1852 through 1868. A popular concealed carry handgun of the era, this pocket pistol design was widely copied by competitors, sometimes down to the markings.

For loading a Philadelphia Deringer, one would typically fire a couple of percussion caps on the handgun, to dry out any residual moisture contained in the tube or at the base of the barrel, to prevent a subsequent misfire. One would then remove the remains of the last fired percussion cap and place the handgun on its half-cock notch, pour 15 to 25 grains (1 to 2 g) of black powder down the barrel, followed by ramming a patched lead ball down onto the powder, being very careful to leave no air gap between the patched ball and the powder, to prevent the handgun from exploding when used. (The purpose of the patch on the ball was to keep the ball firmly lodged against the powder, to avoid creating what was called a "short start" when the ball was dislodged from being firmly against the powder.)

A new percussion cap would then be placed on the tube (what today would be called a nipple), and the gun was then loaded and ready to fire. (The half-cock notch prevented the hammer from falling if the trigger were bumped accidentally while carrying the handgun in one's coat pocket.) Then, to fire the handgun, a user would fully cock the hammer, aim, and squeeze the trigger. Upon a misfire, the user could fully re-cock the hammer, and attempt to fire the handgun once more, or, equally common, switch to a second Deringer. Accuracy was highly variable; although front sights were common, rear sights were less common, and some Philadelphia Deringers had no sights at all, being intended for point and shoot use instead of aim and shoot, across Poker-table distances. Professional gamblers, and others who carried regularly, often would fire and reload daily, to decrease the chance of a misfire upon needing to use a Philadelphia Deringer.

Henry Deringer's production records, and contemporaneous records of his imitators, indicate that these pistols were almost always sold in matching pairs. (A typical price was $15 to $25 for a pair, with silver-inlaid and engraved models selling at higher prices.) The choice of buying a pair, in part, was to compensate for the limited power of a single-shot, short-barreled pistol, and to compensate for a design considerably less reliable than subsequent cartridge derringer designs. Original Deringers are almost never found still in their matched pairs today.

Initially popular with military officers, the Deringer became widely popular among civilians who wished to own a small and easily concealable pistol for self-defense.

In total, approximately 15,000 Deringer pistols were manufactured. All were single barrel pistols with back action percussion locks, typically .41" rifled bores, and walnut stocks. Barrel length varied from 1.5" to 6", and the hardware was commonly a copper-nickel alloy known as "German silver". The back action lock was a later, improved design among locks, which had its spring and mechanism located behind the hammer, where it was thereby protected from dirt, fired cap residue, and gunpowder residue unlike earlier front action locks that had their springs and mechanism located directly in the path of such residue in front of the hammer, under the tube.

Because of their small size and easy availability, Deringers sometimes had the dubious reputation of being a favored tool of assassins. The most famous Deringer used for this purpose was fired by John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Booth's Deringer was unusual in that the rifling twisted counterclockwise (left-handed twist), rather than the typical clockwise twist used on most Philadelphia Deringers.


Year of Manufacture: circa 1855-65
Caliber: .41 inches
Ammunition Type: Lead Ball & Powder with Percussion Cap
Barrel Length: 3 inches
Overall Length: 7 inches
Action: Back Action Percussion Lock
Feed System: Muzzle-Loaded

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