Recently my wife and I decided, for a fixed period, to stop drinking wine. This went well until we found ourselves in an Italian restaurant with two friends. We decided that eating out in company could be an exception. The following week our son and his family came to stay and we decided that eating in with visitors would also count as an exception. We are searching hard for further exceptions as the corkscrew awaits our next move.
Worldwide there are a thousand patents for different types of bottle openers, but the most common remains the corkscrew. There are essentially two types; the straight pull, which relies on strength and the mechanical versions which are more sought after and more valuable.
The interest in corkscrews comes from a mixture of things, including the mechanism used such as levers, crank handles and complex concertina styles, the handles made in a variety of materials and their individual style including decorative form and advertising.
The first English corkscrew patent was taken out by Samuel Henshall in 1795 for a T-shaped straight pull and it lasted for fourteen years. Early versions of the corkscrew are very rare and can be extremely valuable.
During the 19th century many patents were taken out for a variety of different corkscrews. Examples to look out for include Robert Jones’ design of 1840, which has a brass ‘worm’ or screw and three prongs to pierce and grip the cork. Jones’ design enjoyed limited success in its day, probably because like many of today’s tin openers, it didn’t work very well. Today however it is a rare and valuable find, sometimes realising more than four figure sums in auction, if intact and in good condition.
Corkscrews of the twentieth century are less valuable, due to the simpler less appealing designs and the volume of their production, but they would be a good place to start a collection. Unusual examples with fine mechanisms or beautifully crafted versions are always worth watching out for though.
Senior Valuer Michael Dowse
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