Have you given much thought to the humble corkscrew? Beyond that it opens your bottle of wine. Nah, me either. It’s all about the wine, if we are honest.
Except, since opening Our Shop and selling wine related items (as you do) I have come to appreciate, recognise and well maybe not quite worship, the design of the corkscrew.
Of an Age
If you think about it, the corkscrew has been around a while. A really long while actually. Since technically 1795, when it was first patented. Though the first known invention was a French cage style corkscrew in 1685. (We just knew the French had to be involved somewhere.) And in all that time it hasn’t ultimately changed. Especially the screw bit, known as the helix or worm, in that it has always been a screw.
Though saying that, there have, very occasionally, been corkscrews that aren’t screws. More recently, in the form of two blades, parallel to each other, that are held there by a handle. The blades get pushed between the cork and bottle to then pull it out (using friction, I think?).
I remember my Dad had one of these. It was definitely a gadget of the time. He could never get it to work very well, and eventually gave up and went back to his favourite the one that has the arms go up in the air and are pushed down to raise the cork out of the bottle. A classic for a reason.
If it ain’t broke
But generally the humble corkscrew has not changed much at all. The screw used to look more like thick corkscrewed wire, than a blade. It was easier to make the screw this way, way back when. It gained thickness and looking more like a blade fairly recently, in the 20th century, with the advent of machines.
Personally I love finding corkscrews that very obviously date from before machine made. If you get the chance to see some early 19th century ones, the screw is beautifully wonky, not quite consistent in its thickness or turnings. And yet, it still works!
Size doesn’t matter
Back in the good old days corkscrews were used for all sorts of things, not just wine. Screw caps were not invented until 1889, so before that the most common way to seal any bottle was with a cork.
Medicine, perfume, even water bottles all would have had corks and used corkscrews to open them. Perfume corkscrews are generally smaller, about finger length, using a single wire that forms the screw and then at the top is would around into a circle you can put your finger through to pull.
The Classic Corkscrew
The 1800s stays fairly static in style, with a worm and a simple pull. The pull was varied for comfort and style, from 1 finger, 2 finger up to 4 finger pulls in metal. Think brass knuckles with a corkscrew attached.
Or a wooden handle was used, more often shaped like a narrow barrel. So no surprise it was often called a barrel handle. They sometimes had a brush at one end. This was to dust off the top of the bottle and cork. We’re talking in the days before those metal caps were put on top of bottles covering the cork, so dusting off meant the dirt didn’t get into your wine.
The Age of Invention
For some reason, as we enter the late 19th century, variations begin to abound. One of my favourite corkscrew types is the fly nut or propeller corkscrew, invented by J. Perille, a Frenchman, in 1876. It looks similar to the arm raising Wing one, except replace the wings with a propeller. It works on the same principal, except when you look at it, it just doesn’t really make sense how it works. But it does.
I’ve found in researching vintage and antiques corkscrews that there was a definite age of inventing in the 1880s. So many wonderful variations were patented then.
That arm raising one, known as the Wing in example, but also the concertina style (later patented as the Zig Zag in France). The folding Harp, a finger pull variation that folds the worm in on itself. And of course, the Waiter’s Friend, a lever style, and now probably the most popular style corkscrew today. It helps that it fits in the pocket.
And really, since the age of invention, here has been very little variation. Oh sure, there was some buzz when the new fangled leverage Rabbit corkscrew came out a few years ago. It looked cool, and even better worked easily. I mean it was like butter.
We had one of these. But there is something about the vintage and antique corkscrews with those old fashioned helix that, to my mind, just has that certain je ne se crois, a sense of romance, tradition, and celebration to them. I would always choose one that made every wine drinking moment, something special (even if the wine may not be worthy.)
Most of these corkscrew styles are available in Our Shop. Just click on the corkscrew type button to see what is currently available.
More About Wine from us
And if you wish to Geek out
– some more in depth information and history on corkscrews from others:
French Corkscrews by David Lebovitz