Early 19th Century Henry Deringer Flintlock Indian Trade Gun
Early 19th Century Henry Deringer Flintlock Indian Trade Gun – The markings that appear on this Deringer flintlock trade gun date it to the beginning of Deringer’s work, in Philadelphia, in 1809 until 1815. These earliest Deringer lock stampings appear as H.DERINGER with the period elevated to the middle of the text. Although Henry Deringer is best known today for his small pocket pistols, often simply referred to as “Deringers”, early in his gun manufacturing career, he built military arms, both pistols and long arms, for the US government and many state militias. In 1809, he received his first contract with the US Office of Indian Trade for trade rifles. He soon became the primary supplier of rifles to the Indian Trade Office for the government-owned trading posts or factories. The original government contract called for Mr. Deringer to produce 2,000 .54 caliber flintlock rifles in 1814. The price set was then just $17 per rifle. But there were also 60 pieces that Deringer was to later modify, smooth-boring them to a .65 caliber arm that could be sold in the Indian trade. The unrifled piece could fire equally well small shot, buckshot, or a single patched projectile – handy for hunting.
This long gun has a typical Deringer, early production lock plate and marked barrel; the barrel is octagonally configured, to about 10” past the sight, then becomes round throughout the remaining length of the gun. The nose cap appears to be gilded pewter. The brass patch box, also a typical Deringer style, has some modest decorative engraving. There is a raised cheek piece on the left side of the butt stock, and there is an oval, inlaid brass or silver escutcheon on the upper side of the stock’s wrist. The action remains strong and the gun is in overall very good condition, with a wonderful tiger maple stock, with its original surface. The gun measures as follows: Total length – 60.75”; barrel length (from breech plug seam to end of barrel) – 46.25”
The US government factory system was created in 1796 and continued until 1822. Several factories were set up in the South to trade with the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes. Additional factories were established in the Great Lakes region and along the Mississippi River. The western most factory was Fort Osage (1808-1822) near present day Sibley, Missouri. George Moller in American Military Shoulder Arms, Vol. II, notes that Deringer trade rifles were sent to Prairie Du Chien, Council Bluffs, Fort Osage, and St. Louis as early as 1815.
Deringer’s trade rifles varied in details. Some had a pronounced curve or Roman nose in the comb of the butt stock. Others only had a slight curve. Deringer’s signature patch box had an eagle’s head shaped finial. Some were larger and a more literal representation of an eagle’s form while others were smaller and more stylistic. He also used a patch box with a “ghost” form on the finial. Some fancy, and possibly later rifles, have elaborate patch boxes with engraved daisy patterns and commercial boxes from suppliers like Tryon. The fancier rifles were obviously built for the Eastern market. Deringer trade rifles usually had either a Lancaster style side plate or a military style side plate. Most of these trade rifles were plain, with little or no engraving or decorative touches. Some so-called “Fine Rifles” were ordered by the Office of Indian Trade. It’s likely that these had some level of engraving, cheek and thumb piece inlays, and decorative stamps or engraving on the flats of the barrel and muzzle. Some Deringer trade rifles have military style locks that are also seen on his rifles built for state militias while others have sporting locks—a few were obviously imported from England.
Henry Deringer was born in Easton, Pennsylvania on October 26, 1786 to colonial gunsmith Henry Deringer Senior(1756-1833) and Catherine McQuety (1759–1829). The family moved to Philadelphia where his father continued work on the Kentucky rifle, both an ornate sporting model and a basic version for the US Army. He sent his son to Richmond to apprentice with another gunsmith there.
Henry Deringer moved back to Pennsylvania after serving his apprenticeship and set up shop in 1806 in Philadelphia, on Tamarind Street. He married Elizabeth Hollobush at the First Reformed Church in Philadelphia on April 5, 1810.
Deringer’s early efforts were for military contracts, producing military pistols, muskets and rifles. Among those he produced was the Model 1814 Common Rifleand the Model 1817 Common Rifle. He produced trade rifles, designated for the Native American tribes, to fulfill the U.S. treaty obligations. His specialties became fine sporting rifles and dueling pistols. He stopped pursuing the government contracts by the mid-1840s. In 1825 he designed the first of the large caliber, short-barreled pistols that would lead to considerable wealth and fame for himself. Using the basic flintlock action in common usage at the time, the pistols were muzzle loading single shots, or in some cases, double barreled in an over-under manner. Later models used the percussion cap action, although both actions were manufactured and sold for some time. For arms of his own design, he adopted the newer percussion cap technology, putting his pistol on the modern cutting edge. He was innovating; the percussion cap was perfected about 1820, and Deringer was marketing them by the 1830s, and possibly the mid-1820s.