Little could American gun designer Henry Deringer have imagined when he built his first, small pocket pistol-the Philadelphia Derringer, in the early 19th century-that his invention would open a Pandora's Box of novelty weapons. As witnessed by Deringer's derringer, chambered in .41 caliber blackpowder cap and ball, soon the floodgates would be opened to all sorts of unique, small firearms.
The invention of smokeless powder and Smith & Wesson's patented rimfire cartridge of 1854 paved the way for even more sophisticated gun designs ideally suited for clandestine, conceal and carry. The single-barrel Philadelphia led to Remington's double-barreled, piggyback derringer, multi-barreled versions, and other novelty guns to include one with a knife set and "pepperbox" designs with six-shot capacities (i.e., the Remington Zig-Zag and the Ring Gun, worn on the operator's finger).
It seems no thought was too bizarre or unconventional when it came to pocket-pistol designs.
Even modern gun designers have been tempted by the small-gun craze, coming up with improvised firearms and "insurgency" weapons that have included the Soviet KGB Lipstick Pistol of the 1960s, pen light zip-guns and the 1940s vintage, FP-45 Liberator. But more about that American derringer-type pistol and its successor, the Deer Gun, that were airdropped to pro-U.S. insurgents, later.
In 1860, the Remington Zig-Zag Derringer or Pepper Box, became E. Remington and Son's first firearm to use metallic cartridges. So named for its breech-end zig-zag grooves, the Zig Zag was a low-production derringer with a revolving six-shot design chambered in .22RS (rimfire, short) ammunition.
The Zig-Zag had design chinks, leading to another Remington gun, the Elliot Derringer.
The new and improved Remington Derringer was a one-shot improvement over the Philadelphia model. Introduced in the mid-1850s, this double-barreled gun was popular with persons of all economic persuasions interested in self defense and continued so until just before World War II.
With its double-barrel (over and under) design, the Remington Derringer had a one-shot advantage over Henry Deringer's earlier pistol, one that was even more enhanced with the advent of metal cartridges. Whereas the single-shot Philadelphia's barrel pivoted sideways on the gun's frame to provide access to the breech, the Remington Derringer was reloaded by pivoting its barrel upwards.
And what Civil War officer wouldn't feel more confident in battle with a pair of Remington's?
All derringers are known for their pocketability and firepower, but not all were created equal.
And despite years of trying and the best efforts of Colt, Remington, Bond Arms, High Standard, Charter Arms, Cobra, Uberti and others, none has surpassed the acclaim of Henry Deringer and his Philadelphia Derringer, a gun made famous for its ease of concealment and its short-range accuracy.