Derringer

A “derringer” has come to mean a very small pistol. The original derringer was invented in 1852 in Philadelphia. The inventor was Henry Deringer (1786-1868). The inventor’s name, with a slight change in spelling, came to be used for the whole category. Deringer’s invention was a specific gun, a one-shot percussion cap pistol. His design was widely copied. It is not clear how the pistol was marketed, but the small size made it ideal for concealment, and perhaps also for women to carry. The deranged actor John Wilkes Booth carried one of these pistols and used it to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Apparently one of the first newspaper stories about the assassination misspelled Deringer’s name, when it referred to the type of weapon used, and it has been derringer ever since. Derringers are still being manufactured and sold, although the technology has advanced far beyond Henry Deringer’s percussion cap system.

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