Even though the word “derringer” sounds French, it still manages to sound tough doesn’t it?
Technically, a derringer is a pocket pistol, and for any given caliber, it’s about as small a gun as you can get. Derringers typically are not repeating firearms as the mechanism to support a repeating action would make the gun too large and bulky to classify as a derringer.
Original derringers were single shot muzzle loaders – you know, like the pistols in Pirates of the Caribbean, only much, much smaller. Modern derringers tend to have two barrels, with each loaded with a single cartridge. Even though many modern derringers can fire two shots, it’s not because they have a repeating action. They just have two single shot barrels duct taped together. Well, only the really cheap ones are duct taped. Higher quality models use staples. Nah, still kidding. Modern derringers are actually really nice guns that are the pocket gun equivalent of a nice over and under shotgun with two barrels carefully machined or welded together.
Because the history of derringers is such as fascinating tale, we’re going to take a quick diversion here.
A Brief History of The Derringer
Coincidentally, the derringer pistol was invented by an American gunsmith named Henry Deringer. Imagine the odds of that! But back to the story. Deringer ran a thriving business in Philadelphia, manufacturing Model 1814 and 1817 Common Rifles for military contracts. Of course, the real cash cow for Derringers business was running guided tours of Rocky V film locations.
Back to guns. Deringer was famous for his small pistol designs, which were all single shot muzzle loaders, usually of large-caliber. In 1852, he started making the pistols pocket-sized and they became known as derringers. Henry Deringer did not think of his derringer pistol as anything particularly noteworthy and therefore never patented his invention. Seeing market opportunity, Apple quickly launched the iDerringer to capitalize on the design’s popularity. As a result, Henry died leaving only a modest estate and was never invited to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
As the derringer gained in popularity, specific designs for women, called muff pistols, became fashionable. No, we’re not making this up. Muff pistols were popular as the small derringer could easily fit in hand muffs, thereby offering concealment and quick access should an urgent self-defense need arise.
After President Lincoln was assassinated by a bad actor, John Wilkes Booth, with a Philadelphia Derringer in 1865, Henry Deringer was overcome with anguish. Leaving the life of guns behind, he decided to change not only his name, but his life’s work. Adding another “R” to his last name, and assuming the first name of “Rick”, Derringer was confident this bold new identity change would hide his past. He helped form a pop band called The McCoys and played lead guitar and a little bass on occasion. Success came slowly for Derringer and The McCoys and they released their first hit in 1965 – a single titled Hang on Sloopy. At the age of 179 Derringer had managed to reinvent his life. Hang on Sloopy paid homage to the importance of small, personal defense weapons as the song tells the story of Sloopy, who lived in a very pad part of town, where everybody tried to put her down. Many also put down her daddy, but Derringer didn’t care what her daddy do.
Rick Derringer continued to drift away from his gun-making past and launched another hit single in the 1970’s titled Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo. However, Derringer’s songwriting continued to drop hints of his more tactical past with lyrics like “lawdy mama, light my fuse.”
During Rick Derringer’s absence from the gun industry, derringer pistols declined in popularity. The advent of small revolvers and even smaller semi-automatic pistols diminished the advantages of one or two shot derringers.
Until the advent of Cowboy Action Shooting…
In 1995, Greg Bond, custom derringer maker and half-brother of James, officially founded Bond Arms. Never one to enjoy tuxedos and that silly accent, Greg parted ways with his brother and headed west across the pond to Granbury, Texas. Insistent on his belief that modern gun design could be applied to the derringer, Bond brought several innovations to the classic derringer design. In addition to easy locking double barrels and a safer rebounding hammer design, Bond introduced the idea of interchangeable barrels. Now, one derringer frame could use barrels from the lowly .22 long rifle all the way up to .45 Colt. Even when pressed, Bond would not comment on rumors of his brother’s custom 40mm grenade derringer.
Continuing to distance himself from the family spy business, Bond and his Arms became ingrained in the Cowboy Action Shooting competition circuit where models like the Snake Slayer helped good guys and villains alike win 10 consecutive titles.
Derringers continue to be popular today, where they are a mainstay fixture on the World Poker Tour, Except of course in the City of New York, where some New Boy King banned playing cards.