Corkscrews are one of those fun collectables that can be not simply collected but also used to great effect for their original purpose. They make great conversation pieces - especially if you collect novelty designs. Chatelaine's Antiques Magazine


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Decorative Art > Collecting Vintage and Antique Corkscrews

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Old Corkscrews


 Whether collected purely for their visual appeal, or as practical objects, corkscrews are available in a huge range of materials, designs and prices.

Swedish Corkscrew Snuffbox Pat. 1907

 Corkscrews are one of those fun collectables that can be not simply collected but also used to great effect for their original purpose.

 They make great conversation pieces - especially if you collect novelty designs - and, though perhaps less good than modern counterparts, still open a bottle of wine efficiently.

 At the end of the 17th century, vintners discovered that wine matured better when it was taken from the cask and sealed in a bottle with a cork. A device for the cork's removal thus became necessary and so began the history of the corkscrew. In the three centuries since, a great deal of ingenuity has gone into making the extraction of the cork effortless. However, no matter what shape or form a corkscrew has taken, its constituent parts have hardly changed. They are the worm, or screw; the shaft, extending upwards from the screw; and the handle.

 The age of numerous inventions and devices began in 1795, when the Reverend Samuel Henshall launched his 'Button Screw'. This was a conventional T-shaped corkscrew with a metal button threaded between the worm and the shaft. The button pressed on the cork as the worm was driven home, helping the screw to grip firmly into the cork. The cork could now be rotated in the neck of the bottle, greatly easing its extraction.


 After Henshall's invention the floodgates opened and more than 400 different designs of corkscrew were registered or patented in the 19th century.

 The earliest surviving corkscrews, dating from the beginning of the 18th century, have a very short worm with a circular or ovoid handle. In many of them, the worm could be neatly folded back into the handle, so that the corkscrew could be conveniently carried in a pocket or travel bag. By the end of the 18th century, the familiar T-shaped corkscrew had become the standard type.

This Thomason's corkscrew c.1830 sold in 2002 for USD$1030
 One of the most popular types, patented by Edward Thomason in 1802, was known as 'Thomason's Screw'. A metal barrel fitted over the worm and lodged atop the neck of the bottle, providing leverage. With the worm driven into the cork, turning the handle further activated a counter-threaded screw that drew the cork out of the bottle.

 The 'King's Screw' was another popular 19th-century device. It was similar to Thomason's, but it had a smaller handle fixed at right angles to the main handle; this was turned to extract the cork after the worm had been twisted home.

 Both Thomason's Screw and the King's Screw were usually fitted with a small cleaning brush, almost a standard feature in 19th-century corkscrews. Some were also equipped with a small ring in the top of the handle by which they could be suspended when not in use.

English Silver Pocket Corkscrew c.1800 sold at auction in 2003 for USD$450

 Another variety of corkscrew, first made in the late 18th century but popular throughout the 1800s and into Edwardian times, was the ladies' corkscrew, designed for opening perfume bottles. The worm was generally of silver and was protected by a silver sheath. Ladies' corkscrews often formed part of a matching set of implements for the dressing case.


 From a practical point of view, the most important feature of any corkscrew is the worm. The best worms have a sharp point and edges and are about as long as the average cork. The handle, whether on a manual or a mechanical model, should give a firm grip; novelty handles, designed to be visually striking, can be awkward to pull on, although many are collected solely for their visual appeal. A cleaning brush in the handle adds to the value of the item, as does any inscription, decorative engraving or brass trim.


 As they were made in such large numbers throughout the 19th century, even the best mechanical corkscrews are not particularly rare today. Less popular types, overshadowed by the more famous ones, are worth looking out for, even if they are less efficient.

1894 Minneapolis Puddefoot Corkscrew

 The engagingly impractical, the gimmicky, or 18th-century models, whose short worms make them difficult to use, can make an interesting collection if you simply want to display them rather than use them.
 In the late 19th century there were some particularly complex designs and these are worth looking out for as notable examples of splendid Victorian ingenuity. Trade corkscrews, such as those given away with medicine bottles, are now very rare, as most people threw them away. However, it is still possible to find corkscrews made by brewers and distillers to advertise their brands.


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