This is nice example of an early American cartridge deringer or "derringer" pistol. This all-metal Model Number 1 in caliber .41 Rimfire was originally manufactured by Moore's Patent Firearms in Brooklyn, NY from 1860-65, followed by its successor, the National Arms Company, 1865-1870 (also located in Brooklyn, NY). During the National years, a 2nd version of this deringer was introduced with checkered walnut grips which was dubbed the "Number 2". In 1870, Colt M'fg purchased National Arms and scrapped its line of pocket pistols. The art of big companies purchasing smaller competitors to rid them of competition was probably as common practice in the late 19th century as it is today. However, since Colt did not have a single shot pocket model in its product line, it decided to continue the manufacture of the No. 1 and No. 2 Deringers which lasted all the way up to the year 1890. Of the all-metal Number 1's produced from 1860-1890 by three different companies, it's believed that Moore built approximately 3,000, National another 3,000 and Colt M'fg about 6,500 units. Thus, these are not found in large quantities on the collector market today. Numerically speaking, they're about as common as S&W's first revolver, the Model One, First Issue Revolver (11,600 units).
This particular example was manufactured by the National Arms Company between 1865-1870. Moore, National, and Colt produced the No. 1 and 2 Models with 2.5" barrels as standard but there were a few produced with 2" barrels during the Moore and National production years. This is one of the scarcer Nationals with the 2" barrel. Total length is only 4-3/8". Caliber is .41 Rimfire. This one has the standard brass frame with engraving and silver plated finish which is about 90% which has not been cleaned or polished. It hasn't tarnished badly either but remains a nice low luster silver with the brass base metal , turned butterscotch, peeking through in the high spots. The contrast between the dull silver, butterscotch brass, and the engraving is incredible. When you do find these No. 1's, they're usually either worn down to the brass or they've got most of their silver that people cannot seem to resist polishing. This one has been left alone and is perfect...or what some collectors call "the look". Even in a room full of thousands of guns...one like this stands out of the crowd....its journey through time kept away from meddling hands. Time and mother nature have a way of putting a seal of patina over things...and this one is unbroken. See paragraph below. The barrels came in silver or blued and were also engraved. This one was originally blued and has since turned to a very pleasant smooth light brown patina retaining sharp edges and traces of original blue (approx. 5% overall) in the protected areas. The top barrel flat is marked "NATIONAL ARMS CO.". Lower portion of the barrel is marked, with the serial number in the 1,700 range and "PAT FEB 24, 1863" which supplanted Moore's original Feb. 19, 1861 patent. Original sights consist of a blade front constructed of German silver and a clever elongated "V" notch down the center of the hammer which functioned as the rear sight when placed in the full-cock position. Very Good action with a Fine bore that is still mostly bright. NRA Antique Very Good+ to Fine Overall. Aesthetically, this is a wonderful example.
When a gun has "that look"! Speaking from a personal point of view, this is where a gun transcends beyond its original purpose, and really beyond an antique or even history. It is a piece of art in my eyes and 140+ years in the making. Not everyone gets this and I would never expect them to. It's subjective so the last thing I want to try to do is define what art should be to a gun collector. For example, a guy who collects strictly by percentage of condition will scoff..."Mine is better...look at all the original finish." Another collector may just want an example to fit his budget regardless of condition. Another collect might think this derringer looks pretty decent but vastly improved once he gets some silver polish out and erases that 140 years of mother nature. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!
So here is my take on guns and art. The art in an object is not purely condition but in the way in which the condition declines...the less human interruption than is necessary, the better. Decline???? What does that mean? All I can say is that words are poor substitutes when it comes to conveying something you're passionate about and over years I've talked with other collectors who've shared this point of view. Many have told me that is was something they were born with and had trouble explaining until they reached adulthood. When I was about seven years old, there was an old man who used to cut my neighbor's lawn down the street. He'd show up about every couple of weeks in a tired old light blue Chevrolet pickup truck. The original paint was tarnished and had scratches all over it and yet, I was VERY interested in it. This went on for some time.. One night I saw the old truck parked down the street and I begged my father to come with me to see it hoping that I could convince him to take a picture of it with his 35mm camera. My old man loved photography and as much as it was understood that my parents could neither afford nor permit their eccentric 1st grader to begin collecting old worn out pickup trucks, perhaps they would let me have a picture of it. Well, my father was tired from working all day and my mother had just finished preparing dinner and was having none of her son's antics. We were sitting down to have dinner and that was that...but if the man was still there after we finished, then "maybe your father will go with you". Needless to say, I pretty much inhaled my food and was once again impatiently waiting for my father to finish eating. Well, long story short, we got down there in time before the man drove off. Here comes my father with me down the street in his work suit, camera in hand, and we stop in front of this old pickup truck. "Is this old truck what you brought me down here to take a photograph of?"...my dad asked shaking his head. He couldn't understand all the fuss...and for that matter, neither could the owner of the truck. It was just a tool that nobody had probably ever paid any attention to. I was looking at something different though...not in terms of condition, value, or anything practical, but the story it told. That truck was not just a truck any more...it was something that had been shaped by a man and nature for many years, had never painted over so it now told a story.
In a sense, guns aren't much different than any other tool. They start their life on that plateau of "New-ness", 100% finish, bright, unblemished, and all virtually identical. Then the plateau falls away in an avalanche of decline. Each example goes out into the world where it's subjected to a combination of use, abuse, oxidation, and climate. Then when the item loses its condition as well as technological value, it will often go through a period of neglect. It gets locked in a hot shed or attic, a damp basement, etc. I can't think of a more poignant example than what happened to warplanes in the aftermath of the Second World War. Very few survived and even fewer undisturbed...like the B-26 "Flak Bait" housed at the Smithsonian which flew over 200 missions and still wears its original paint. So there is a natural progression of kinesthetic decline usually followed by neglect resulting in further a more natural decline due to the elements. Then, 50 to 100 years later, we collectors start taking an interest in the survivors. After a century or more, that once wide plateau of perfect 100% examples is usually reduced to a very small fraction with everything else sliding downhill to lesser degrees of condition. That slide down the hill is the art to me where each example becomes unique and one of a kind. That's not to say they are "ALL" appealing, just as not all forms of "ART" appeal to everyone. Most look as though they didn't miss a single stone or hard bump rolling down the hill which can give a piece a little too much "character". That said, this National No. 1 has a perfect undisturbed combination of wear and condition without any bumps or bruises tumbling down the "condition mountain". Through that filter, it has survived through three different centuries to become a work of art in my eyes and I hope to see it go to someone who appreciates it just as much.