Corkscrews: A New Twist for Collectors

It is a little known fact that the first corkscrew was patented in England by the Reverend Samuel Henshall (see figure I) in 1795. Today the corkscrew is fast emerging as one of the most desirable antiques to collect throughout the world. This fact is especially true in the United States where the interest in wine and its consumption has fueled a demand for wine related antiques to adorn wine cellars and bring out at dinner parties.

The corkscrew is first documented in England in 1681 when it was described as "a steel worm used for the drawing of corks from bottles." The idea for the corkscrew heralds from the use of a similar shaped screw used for the removal of shot and unused charge from gun barrels. It was not until 1720 that the term corkscrew was used, up until this time they had been known as bottlescrews. At around the same time the first mold-made cylindrical glass bottles were becoming the new accepted form and this intern allowed for the standard cork to be driven into its neck. Ever since this moment in history the age old question for inventors has been how best to remove the cork from the bottle. The corkscrews development over time has been helped but such notable inventors in England as Mathew Boulton, Sir Edward Thomason (see figure II), Thomas Lund, Robert Jones and Edwin Cotterill. In America the first registered patent for a corkscrew was made by M.L.Byrn of New York on March 27 1860. American inventors who pioneered some of the of early corkscrews were Philos Blake, Robert Murphy, Edwin Walker, W.A.Williamson and Charles Chinnock.

The most basic "T" shape and "straight pull" designs using handle shaft and worm were already established as the most popular form throughout the 18th century. During this time the corkscrews were hand made typically from Steel and Silver with some exceptional examples in Gold. These screws were often highly elaborate and showed there exquisite craftsmanship and technical ingenuity. A very small portion were made as a combination or multi tools (see figure III) for gentleman travelers who also used them as nutmeg graters to flavor there wine. With the advent of the industrial revolution in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, there was a virtual explosion of patents for the express purpose of removing the cork form the bottle. Some of these patents were more decorative than actually useful and for that reason only a few examples were ever produced. Due to this fact early examples of patent corkscrews are much sought after by collectors.

When considering starting a collection or adding to an existing one it is important to have an understanding of the area of interest. This you can acquire from books written on the subject, as well as speaking to dealers who specialize in your field of interest. In the case of corkscrews there are a number of excellent books that have been published on the subject.


Recommended Reading:

  • Corkscrews for Collectors by Bernard M. Watney & Homer D. Babbidge
  • Corkscrews of the Eighteenth Century Artistry in Iron and Steel by Bertrand B. Guilian
  • Corkscrews 1000 Patented Ways to Open a Bottle by Fred O’Leary
  • The Corkscrew by Paolo de Sanctis and Maurizio Fantoni

With the numerous variations of corkscrews available, it is wise to decide which direction your collection will develop, be it by country of origin or patent form such as lever, straight pull or mechanical . Which ever path you decide upon you should not fall into the trap that so many new collectors fall into by buying every piece they see. This will only lead to a collection of quantity rather than one of quality. By investing in the finest examples you can find and afford, rather than purchasing every one you see, over a period of time you will acquire a collection of depth and one that will maintain its value.


Organizations:

International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts (ICCA) formed in 1974 by Dr. Bernard Watney the author of the bible to corkscrew collectors worldwide, from which the title of this article takes it’s name Corkscrews for Collectors. This ultra exclusive club is limited to just fifty members and has a long waiting list of prospective members. The membership is a well-rounded group of businessmen doctors, restaurateurs, engineers and even a Californian monk.

The Canadian Corkscrew Collectors Club (CCCC) was founded in 1981 when a group of corkscrew collectors in Canada answered an advertisement placed in Opimium Society’s magazine, Wine Tidings by Dave Dakers. The advert called for all fellow members interested in corkscrew collecting to admit to there addiction and get together to form a club to develop further interest in this singularly different passion. From it’s small beginnings the club has now grown to a membership of more than 300, in sixteen countries. For further information on the club visit their homepage on the worldwide web.


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