The Derringer Pictures
30 thoughts on “The Derringer Pictures”
The Derringer was sold originally as a “calibre .41”
Do you have a specific reference that indicates that the original deringer was sold as a .41 caliber?
The information in this thread indicates that a book was being written regarding Booth’s weapons. I don’t know if it has come out yet. It would be good to know the book’s status and where it can be obtained, when it is available…
The derringer that did in President Lincoln is a .44 caliber, but Booth used a .41 caliber ball, which is held in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in its new location in Silver Spring, Maryland. Another unique thing about Booth’s derringer was found in the 1990s when the FBI examined the pistol. Its rifling (seven grooves inside the barrel) are counter-clockwise.
Relative to the smaller size of the ball, I believe it had something to do with the derringers being built to accept bullets from .30 caliber up to about .50 caliber. Again, like Dave, I’m no firearms expert.
There is a member of the Surratt Society, however, that is putting the finishing touches on a book entitled Tools of the Assassin. Wes Harris hopes to have it on the market in 2014.
Thank you for your timely comments. You mentioned Wes Harris’ upcoming book. Perhaps I should contact him regarding his thoughts on the subject. Might you know his email address?
I do have contact with Wes, but it is our policy to not give out information without permission. If you will email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I will forward your information on to him. It would help if you would give a small indication of why you are seeking information on the derringer. I try not to jeopardize anyone’s research.
It sounds (coming from firearm owner including muzzloading black. Powder guns) that it was a genuine .44. It would seem logical that a prototype version of the Gun or even an early production model was possibly in .41-.42 maybe booth had some old advertising or was mistaken. I Still find it hard to believe Anyone could load a .44 with a .44 ball and not notice it. Loading a muzzloader is an involved process. I do suppose booth may have been completely incapable of using firearms but I’ve never heard this.
It sounds more likely that he was unable to acquire proper ammunition while staying somewhat hidden, he did want to survive if possible it seemed. I believe it was possibly also something he figured didn’t matter at point blank range. I’m curious if it was smoothbore or rifled. Probably smoothbore. But rifling would be cut making the dimensions where rifling is cut .450-.456” significantly increasing the size of projectile required to engage the rifling (rifled firearms use projectiles the size of the rifling grooves.
As with most things firearm related including gun control you must understand the guns to understand what’s going on.
Education is out there
It was good to read your post this morning.
Please allow me to try to clear up some of the confusion about the bullet and Deringer from the case.
At one time most items from this case were with the War Department. A decision was made to move several items to the National Park Service and What we know as Fords Theater. Not included was the bullet and skull fragments as someone in power thought it would be to ugly for the public.
Jump ahead to 1997. I had just finished working a triple homicide on the BW Parkway for the Park Police. The investigator for that case called and said some people are saying the Booth Deringer was stolen back in the 1960’s, would you like to examine it. You can guess what my answer was.
This thing about the Deringer being a .44 caliber comes from a document written in May 1963. Now I have no idea how he measured the General Rifling Characteristics (GRC). He may have been confused by the tooling at the muzzle. I have included a picture. I have also included a picture of the dental casting I made of the interior of the barrel. I must say it is the best cast I ever made. Although I did travel to AFIP to examine the bullet, it was only a visual exam. For any of you that have seen the bullet, it is in some kind of plastic. They tried to stop the oxidation. The bullet is also deformed. So back in the Lab in order to determine the GRC I measured the cast which is exact size as the barrel. It measures to be .414. So that is where I get the .41 caliber from. To be clear. that is from the widest point to the widest point on the opposite side.
I am sorry for not having the pictures. It seems it will not allow me to do that. email me and I will reply with the pictures.
I can understand the confusion especially since the sources are not consistent in giving the caliber of the pistol or the lead ball. Since every Henry Deringer pistol was handmade, the size of the pistol and its caliber can vary from weapon to weapon. It’s hard to tell from the FBI photo, but it’s actually closer to .44 caliber. A ball of about .41 caliber was ideal for the weapon; anything larger would be very difficult to ram down the barrel. Each pistol had its own bullet mold for that very reason. My email address is email@example.com.
I believe Wes Harris to be correct. I have shot different kinds of muzzle loading pistols and rifles. I have built a few. The Derringer that killed Lincoln, I believe was definitely a .44. Cal. The lands are slightly larger than the grooves by approx. 3/100ths of an inch. It would have very difficult to ram a patched .44
cal. ball down the barrel. A patched .41 cal. ball was probably the bullet that killed Lincoln. That is my opinion and I believe it to be correct.
Looking at the older photos vs the more modern images, it appears at some point a person tightened the screw on the derringer’s side plate. Are you aware of any restoration and/or maintenance that has been done to this piece over its history?
The earliest photos of the pistol show the head of the screw missing. We don’t know if it was like that when Booth had it. Some time in the 60s or 70s, the broken screw was replaced with a common wood screw. There was talk at one time of replacing it with a genuine Deringer screw but the NPS decided not to do so. Note some of the photos show a string–that was to keep from losing the hammer with the defective screw.
Thanks for the responses. However, I’m referring to the screw of the side plate, a short way to the left of the “Deringer/Philadelphia” inscription. I’m sure it isn’t a consequential detail, just something I noticed. Again, Thanks!
Erik, the FBI examined the pistol and took it apart back in the 90s, so that’s why the screw is in a different position from the earlier photographs.
Sir; I respect your knolege on the subject. However, I am sorry to tell you, I never changed anything on any historic firearm that I have worked on. I only did the exams requested by NPS. This deringer was keep as recieved. I did one additional exam which was to make a cast of the barrel which was returned to the NPS.
Carlo, that account was related to me by someone on the Ford’s Theatre staff. The story I was given was that the pistol was taken apart. Thanks for the correction.
No Sir, I never took the gun apart. It had been worked on well before it was submitted to me. I examined the deringer every way possible. I made a full cast of the barrel which had never been done in the past. If I knew how to post the picture here I would.
Mr. Rosati, would you consider emailing the photo to one of us to post here? thanks.
Thanks Wesley. Appreciate your responses. And I love this website.
I don’t have a specific reference, but I’ve been collecting guns for over fifty years and cannot recall anything other than .41 being the caliber of the Philadelphia Derringer. I will attempt to locate some specific references so I can adequately respond to your question. You must understand that the actual bore diameter is frequently different from the listed caliber of any weapon. The well-known .38 Speciial bullet is actually .357 inches.
Here is a reference from a magazine article about the history of Henry Deringer’s gun: http://gunsmagazine.com/henry-deringers-pocket-pistol/
You could do some additional Googling yourself. While some of the original Deringer/Derringer pistols may have been made in different calibers, I’m pretty certain the Lincoln pistol was the classic .41 caliber.
from fbi.gov article about the authenticity of the gun and its caliber. Indicating the caliber would fluctuate with the firearm. ‘the Deringer pistol’s non-martial status was underscored by the lack of a standardized caliber among pistols of its make. Because each paired set of Deringer pistols included a bullet mold specific to the caliber of the two matching pistols, loss of this mold virtually precluded the proper fit of ammunition for the paired set.”
ACCORDING TO A REPLY FROM ALLISON DIXON OF THE FORD MUSEUM THE DERRINGER WAS AT HARPER’S FERRY CONSERVATION CENTER IN 1965 WHICH IS WHEN IT IS ESTIMATED THE SCREW WAS REPLACED TO PREVENT THE LOSS OF THE HAMMER. THERE IS AN EARLY 1900s PHOTO POSTCARD SUBMITTED BY ME THAT SHOWS THE ORIGINAL SCREW INTACT. A NOTE FOUND WITH THE PHOTO STATES “GIVEN TO ME BY THE SECRETARY OF THE COURT MARTIAL WHO TRIED BOOTH FOR THE MURDER OF LINCOLN”. ON THE BACK OF THE POSTCARD IS WRITTEN INOLD BROWN INK “NOT TO BE REPUBLISHED, PHOTOGRAPHED, OR COPIED OR REPRODUCED IN ANY MANNER WHATSOEVER.”
Spelled Deringer (1 r ) on the weapon
I wanted to update a post from years ago. Fox Nation has just posted a new show that you and your readers may find interesting. The episode is called Secrets of Abraham Lincoln. The last third of this episode has some great photos of the Booth Deringer.
Of course, I did not have anything to do with the first 2/3 of this show. They also did not use any of the information about how or why the FBI Laboratory got involved in this part of American History. Maybe some day I can do my own pod cast.
Yes, I would be interested in the Fox Nation program you referenced. Is there a specific internet address where we could see this program? Thank you!
I’m not saying anyone should sign up for Fox Nation. However, it is the only location that this program is available. They were able to secure photos that were utilized during the examination of the Booth Deringer. The photos have red arrows indicating the areas of imperfections that were comparison during examination.
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Hmmm… most internet sites say that the Booth derringer was .44 caliber, but a close look at the FBI picture of the muzzle above looks like a 10mm diameter which would make the actual caliber closer to a .41 caliber. Any thoughts on this? I was just wondering…..