It’s not uncommon for brand name objects to assume the role of catch-all term for their generic equivalent. Case in point: Kleenex for facial tissue and Q-tips for cotton swabs.
While not nearly as common in the realm of firearms, it does happen from time to time. That’s the case with the “Deringer” and “derringer.”
For starters, the catch-all spelling uses a lower-case D and has two R’s, and the brand-name version uses an upper-case D and has only one R. Why the difference? Because the latter is a proper name.
Henry Deringer, Jr. had gunsmithing in his blood: his father, an immigrant from Germany, came to the American Colonies before the Revolutionary War and was known for making Kentucky rifles and pistols.
Junior opened up his own gun shop in Philadelphia in 1806. He cut his teeth on government contracts making approximately 20,000 Model 1814 and Model 1817 flintlock rifles and approximately 1,200 Model 1845 Boxlock Navy flintlock pistols.
When military contracts waned after the Mexican-American War, Deringer shifted his focus to firearms for private purchase. This decision would lead to his name becoming forever linked to pocket pistols, whether he actually made them or not.
Unfortunately for Deringer, there was nothing new about any of the mechanisms employed in his pistol. Because of this, there was nothing for him to patent. His only legal protection came from his trademark, which was DERINGER / PHILADELA, stamped on the lock plate. This proved to create a legal headache for Deringer for the rest of his life.
Competitors seeking to capitalize on the Deringer brand-name began stamping their lock plates with names that were similar: J. Deringer, Deeringer, Beringer, and most famously, Derringer. The exact number of companies making copies of Deringer’s design is unknown; it is believed that there were at least half a dozen in Philadelphia alone! One such Philly-based maker, Slotter & Company, employed former Deringer employees. As a result, they were almost indistinguishable from the genuine guns.
While “Deringer” and “derringer” have become interchangeable and hold the same meaning to most people, it is important to remember that technically they are two different things. It may not seem like that big of a deal to most, but there are times when knowing the difference between the two really does matter – especially to a gun collector.
Check out this segment from Curator's Corner featuring Deringer's Derringer: