It was not until the early 1970s, thanks to the efforts of ceramics expert Richard Dennis, that the true collectability of the corkscrew became apparent. Until then, the device had been a poor relation in the collecting world. When Dennis began buying examples to sell at his London shop, he noticed that they were being snapped up within days. In 1996, he sold his 600-strong collection for more than £107,000 and then focused his obsessive mind on dissectology (jigsaw collecting).
A year later, the world of corkscrews was turned on its head when a record £18,400 was paid at Christie’s for an 18th-century English silver pocket corkscrew from the collection of Dr Bernard Watney, author of the seminal tome Corkscrews for Collectors. Engraved with the inscription “From the Queen, Jan 1910”, this prince of corkscrews is thought to have been a gift from Queen Alexandra. This record was equalled in 1998 when an 1842 example by Robert Jones was sold from the collection of Herbert Miles, firmly establishing the corkscrew as a work of art in its own right.
Christie’s has since abandoned its twice-yearly corkscrew sales, although they occasionally occur, usually as part of its regular interior sales. Bonhams also offers them at its annual Gentleman’s Library auctions. There are, however, a surprising number of specialist dealers in the field, including the Northamptonshire-based Corkscrew Centre, Corkscrews Online in Berkshire and noted expert Robin Butler, author of Great British Wine Accessories 1550-1900.
“Many regular wine drinkers who use modern corkscrews have probably never considered buying a vintage one — but not only can they be very attractive, they usually work perfectly well, too,” says Butler. “Unfortunately, the upper echelons of corkscrew collecting have become something of a closed circle, with a few wealthy enthusiasts snapping up the really valuable pieces as soon as they come on sale — I know of one particular collector in the US who has amassed 24,000 corkscrews, some of which are worth tens of thousands of pounds.
the-icca.net; corkscrewcentre.com; corkscrewsonline.com; butlersantiques.com