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Sunday, February 4, 2007

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Old Times Corkscrews

For the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 , the Old Times Distillery of Louisville, Kentucky built an operating two story distillery and warehouse. The company won a "First Prize" for it's exhibit. It later won the "Grand Prize" at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in St. Louis in 1904.

In 1906 D. H. Russell of the Old Times Distillery offered a "Silver-mounted Buck-horn Handled Cork-Screw" to customers who ordered two or more gallons of Old Times.

The corkscrew pictured above on the left has "Old Times" on the end of the handle and "D. H. Russell, Louisville, Ky. on the shank (from the collection of Mark Woodard). The corkscrew was produced by Williamson Company, Newark, New Jersey. Other examples can be found with advertising on the end of the handle. The one on the left advertises Wallace Supply Company, Chicago on both ends of the handle.

Russell also used wood handled Williamson corkscrews for advertising (both sides of two corkscrews pictured above). The corkscrew on the left has "First Prize, Old Times Whiskey, World's Fair" on one side of the handle and "D. H. Russell, Treas., Old Times Whiskey, Louisville, Ky." On the underside is the instruction "Need not pull, keep turning" and on the end is "Williamson Co., Newark, N. J., Pat. Apl'd for."

The second corkscrew has an unusual log handle and is stamped "Old Times Rye" on the handle ends. The advertising on one side of the handle is "D. H. Russell's Old Times, Louisville, Ky." and "First Prize, Old Times Whisky, World's Fair" on the other. In a departure from the norm the usage advice is on the top and reads "Don't pull to extract the cork, keep turning." Russell took over the distillery in 1907 and operated as "D. H. Russell Distilling" until 1916. This corkscrew would date from that period.

Whiskey vs Whisky

The pre-1907 wooden handle corkscrew has the spelling "Whiskey" and the 1907-1916 corkscrew has the spelling "Whisky" (without the "e". We consulted the online "Wikipedia" to learn about the difference in the spellings and learned:

The spelling whisky (plural whiskies) is generally used for those distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada, and Japan, while whiskey (with an e; plural whiskeys) is used for the spirits distilled in Ireland and in the United States as well. A 1968 BATF directive specifies "whisky" as the official U.S. spelling, but allows labeling as "whiskey" in deference to tradition, and most U.S. producers still use the latter spelling.

It is quite possible that the spelling on the second wood handle Old Times corkscrew is an error.

Other St. Louis Awards

Many awards were given at the St. Louis World's Fair for beer and wine. Two of note were Gundlach, Bundschu Company for wine and Indianapolis Brewing Company for beer.

The corkscrew on the right is from J. Gundlach of San Francisco, the predecessor to Gundlach, Bundschu. Jacob Gundlach's son-in-law became a partner in the early winery and when Jacob died, the winery became known as Gundlach-Bundschu Wine Company. (Editor's note: Thank you to reader Dean Walters for the Gundlach information).

Grant's Knife

On January 18 this knife appeared on eBay with a starting bid of $2,200. The description was "Civil War folding knife and hoof cleaner marked 'Gen'l U. S. Grant' ... mfg. in England a marked Cranswick 59 Piccadilly ... on the other side 2 initials J. H. for John Hooker. Knives of this kind were said to be given to Grants Staff Generals with a bottle of wine at Christmas."

According to Peters and Giulian in their History of Pocket Corkscrews and Pocket Knives this style knife is the "oldest known and registered champagne-pattern knife. British registered design by Williams Singleton, 14 May 1874."

Grant served in the Civil War. In 1869 he was elected President of the United States and served in that capacity until 1877. He died in 1885.

The dates don't add up to call it a Civil War knife. However, because of the age of the knife, the inscription could very well be genuine. It does not however have a "hoof cleaner". The seller's reference is no doubt to the capsule cutter.

One ebayer posed the question "I think your knife is absolutely fantastic ... where did you get information on knives of that kind given to staff ? Is there any history that goes with it ?" The seller's reply was "I bought the knife from a gentleman in West Palm Beach Florida who told me that somewhere in a book, or several books-it is mentioned. Also, that he knew of someone who saw another similar knife at a Civil War Show - with the same history as this knife."

The auction closed on January 28. There were no bids.

Editor's note: Here in the American South, the Civil War is referred to as "The War of Northern Aggression".

Clough and Ayer

Reader Mark Woodard found an envelope from the Rockwell Clough Company addressed to J. C. Ayer in Lowell, Massachusetts. Ayer was a customer of Clough for small corkscrew for his patent medicines and other products.

Trade cards from Dr. J. C. Ayer & Company, Lowell, Massachusetts advertise various products including Ague Cure, Cherry Pectoral, Hair Vigor, and Sarsaparilla.

Some of the trade cards picturing Clough corkscrews in the top of the bottle or on the reverse of the card:

For the story of Clough click here or to order the book click here.

Buyer Beware

With rare corkscrews fetching high prices, it opens the door for copies, fakes, and fraud in online sales schemes. Savvy readers are aware of some of the sources of these corkscrews and limit their buying to trusted known sellers. Unfortunately, many collectors are caught in the trap set by unscrupulous sellers. They end up paying high prices and either receive nothing at all or receive a corkscrew with questionable age, source, and validity.

Several months ago a seller from China, simply copied photos and word for word copy from the legitimate eBay sales of several rare corkscrews. They listed these corkscrews with "Buy-It-Now" features. Several collectors complained to eBay and the seller was removed. Unfortunately, such sellers can quickly get another eBay name and pop up again promoting bogus auctions.

To prevent anyone from warning a bidder about possible fraud, these sellers will often offer a "private sale". High bidder IDs will not be shown and under high bidder it will say "User ID kept private".

Readers are cautioned to check the feedback on sellers before bidding. And look closely, there are a number of schemes where sellers will inflate their feedback by selling to themselves or buying from themselves using different names and subsequently posting positive feedback. In addition, they may have friends who will also assist in pumping up their feedback.

One reader wrote: "A seller from 'Belarus' is listing what appears to be very high quality corkscrews, however, the authenticity is suspicious, and the fakery very good. One item is a fancy version of the Detroit Leg [above left] ... If you compare the eBay photos of the item to a photo of the same item in O'Leary's book, page 88, you can see the difference in detail...i.e. the shoe. The worm is also different, and has more mass, as well as does the shank."

The reader also wrote: "Another fairly impressive fake has been posted on eBay [above right]. It's been confirmed by a well known author on the subject that it is a fake. The cage does not match the original, and the condition of the cage is nearly perfect, where the worm is corroded and rusty. The handle is incongruous as well. The fake is meant to be a copy of W. Neues' 1897 DRGM. You can find a photo and description of it in Ferd Peter's book on DRGMs, on page 25."

Another reader wrote: "I just inform you that all the corkscrews of this seller [from Belarus] are false. He changed all the time his ID but always registered in Bielorussia. I've the address of this seller as he bought from me a Pérille catalogue in the past, perhaps in order to make false. Be careful, there some details who are missing out his corkscrews [not receiving]."

... Buyer Beware!

News Index

©2007 Don Bull, Editor


The Virtual Corkscrew Museum