The corkscrew collection, which now exceeds 30 000 pieces, is the proof that humans did try to have fun. But this is just one point of view as there are many more aspects that a simple visit of the collection can teach. For example, the corkscrew collection does show that these tools opened wine bottles but here you can also find out that, in the beginning, other bottles were also sealed with cork and needed a special corkscrew to open them.
The corkscrew is thought to have derived from a gun tool used at removing debris from the gun or at cleaning the barrel. The interesting thing is that further uses of the corkscrews returned to the field of guns and there are some corkscrews that were incorporated in arms used for self-defense in which the worm acts as a trigger. There are even more subtle arms which could be mistaken as nicely decorated rings that could be used in times of necessity.
Most of the oldest corkscrews, from the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries are very nicely decorated and are some of the most beautiful corkscrews that you can see. It might be surprising that the first corkscrews are more decorated than the others that came along with different technologies that made the production easier. But, at a closer look, one can see that these corkscrews belonged to persons of the aristocracy as the ordinary people couldn’t have afforded such tools with an extraordinary artistic work.
Furthermore, during that period, wine was consumed mostly by rich people while the masses drank cider or beer. However, corkscrews like these rarely opened wine bottles, maybe from time to time, when a cork was stuck or broken, but most of the time, the corkscrew was used for opening ink bottles. Many French corkscrews from the eighteenth century even have a seal with a coat of arms, different symbols and even portraits on the bottom of the sheath that the owner could use to seal his letters.
There was a time when young women always carried a set containing a corkscrew that they used to open perfume bottles. These corkscrews are very delicate, nicely decorated, with precious stone inlaying and were used only for these specific perfume bottles.
Medicines as well were contained in special bottles and sealed with cork. At that time you could buy corkscrews with shorter worms, specially made for these bottles. Other corkscrews made for medicines even have the shape of a cup in order to serve multiple purposes such as opening the medicine bottle and also measure the dose.
The first patent obtained for a corkscrew was granted to the reverend Samuel Henshall who, in 1795, worked together with the So-Ho Factories in Birmingham to produce the first law protected corkscrew. Of course, these tools already existed on the market but they were not the object of a patent registration. From this point forward, many applied for corkscrew patents and improvements in Great Britain as well as in the other countries. A lot of inventors or manufactures tried to protect their objects from being produced by others and there are even some who are famous for other inventions as well, like in the case of Henry S. Shrapnel, the son of the inventor of the well-known artillery shell used in warfare.
The need for an easier extraction of the cork came quite quickly and the mechanical corkscrews soon appeared. After only seven years after the first patented corkscrew, in 1802, Edward Thomason obtained a patent for his invention. It was a corkscrew which had two threaded shafts that allowed the user to insert the worm into the cork and to extract it from the bottle with ease by turning the handle only clockwise.
Sparkling wine, soda and sparkling water were also sealed with cork in the past and required a very interesting tool to open the bottle. It was a corkscrew, of course, but with some modifications that involved a hollow shank and a valve in order to allow the pressure to be released without making a mess. After the pressure has been released, the cork could be removed like any other bottle.
Fast opening of wine bottles is a must in bars and restaurants and the bar corkscrews which can be fixed on the table or on the wall have complex mechanisms that can insert the worm in the cork, remove the cork from the bottle and the cork from the worm with just a swing of the handle. It allows a fast extraction and many repetitions. Furthermore, they were a nice advertising support.
As wine lovers know, old bottles involve old corks that can easily be broken or hard to get out. The non-worm extractor is able to remove the cork usually by being inserted between the cork and the neck of the bottle and then by gripping it from underneath or both sides. There are even some rare tools in the museum that can grip the cork from within, like the Samuelsen patent.
Besides being practical, the corkscrews also have an esthetic aspect and many of them are very good example of the mix between utility and art. Some corkscrews are even the work of plastic artists from around the world. Although hard to believe at first, the corkscrew has been often transformed into a very nice and decorated item, as a result of the artistic vision of the manufacturer or designer.