The Virtual Corkscrew Museum's Weekly Newspaper
Sunday, March 2, 2008
From the desk of the editor
The corkscrews we gather are nowhere near as remarkable as the friends we make during our hunt. For some the day comes to divest themselves of the corkscrews but never of the friends they made during the journey.
During his fifty years of travels, Jack Vlossak amassed a rather sizeable collection of corkscrews. There weren't a lot of rare corkscrews but each piece he found had its own story and its own memories. At the age of eighty-four, Jack decided it was time to pass his collection on to others. The collection was dispersed Worldwide through a two part auction on eBay in January-February 2008.
It is interesting to consider how many of us have assembled collections through extensive travel including visiting antique shops, flea markets, auction houses, and organization meetings. In those travels we all meet some great folks who have in common a collecting bond and will be cherished for years to come. We enjoy the quest, we enjoy the objects, and when it is time to pass the collection on, we are pleased to give joy to the new owners.
In Jack's case the corkscrews were "recycled" far and wide. For those interested in a few "numbers", here is where they went (number in parenthesis is the number of new homes): Argentina (1), Australia (1), Belgium (3), Canada (5), Czech Republic (1), France (4), Germany (3), Israel (1), Italy (5), Netherlands (5), Spain (2), and United Kingdom (5). The balance The rest went to collectors in the United States and the state distribution was California (7), Colorado (1), Florida (3), Georgia (2), Illinois (1), Iowa (1), Maryland (2), Massachusetts (2), Missouri (1), Nevada (2), New York (2), North Carolina (2), Oklahoma (2), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (1), Texas (1), Vermont (1), Virginia (2), Washington (1), and Wisconsin (1).
Jack is quite pleased that what he collected will be cherished by the new owners. As this is being written, he's off on a ski trip, enjoying every day as he always has and, no doubt, making a few more friends.
How did Jack get addicted to corkscrews. He wrote "I had a latent interest in wine and my curiosity was further fueled when I met a guy with a wine cellar. He and I became great friends and sailing buddies - he actually had a wine cellar in his sailboat. His wife was an excellent cook and through the association my wife, Dot got quite good at it. We began buying wine by the case back in 1960 through an importer. There were five of us and we bought 1959 'futures' paying $79.00/cs. for Ch. Lafite. That year we agreed to take 67 cases between the five of us. Most common corkscrews were just junk, but the older ones like the Humason & Beckley given to me by my brother-in-law in 1957, with the wire cutter was well made and from high quality steel.
Jack and Dot
Being a metallurgist, involved with process improvement and with some experience in metal finishing, I couldn't help but admire the old H & B and wanted to own more. I had only one little booklet on corkscrews and tried to acquire one of every illustration in that book. The Canadian Corkscrew Collectors Club was to me a well-kept secret as were the Addicts. I never knew they existed until I began publishing 'Openers'!
About 1971 Fox Valley Technical College hired a Culinary Institute Graduate to start a Chefs' Program and he approached me to teach Wine Courses which I did for 17 years. My profession required some foreign travel and each time I went I looked for corkscrews in the antique shops and flea markets. The market was highly unsettled and most dealers had no idea of the value of what they were selling."
And Jack added this note about a very early corkscrew find "While serving in India at the 142nd General Hospital as a medical Lab Technician, I happened to go into an English Antique shop and saw my first antique corkscrew, A handsome Thomason. It was the middle of WW II and the antique business was slow. I didn't know what it was and the clerk had to explain how it worked. The price in 1944 was 150 rupees, about $10.00 and I was getting $52. a month. NO SALE!"
We asked a number of collectors if they could tell us briefly why they collect corkscrews. Here are some of the responses:
Helgir Solheim, Norway (Former Right of the ICCA)
Why corkscrews? It is said that all children at one time in their lives are collectors of some sort or other. I started with Dinky planes and cars, seashells and plush animals. During a short period as a teenager, I lost interest in what can be called collectibles but once in high school I was back again. I became especially fascinated by old drinking vessels and bottles which again led me to my first corkscrew. It was a Henshall and the brush on the one end triggered my curiosity. It took some time before the corkscrew became my main collectable item, but today I consider it my favorite hobby.
Why corkscrews and not something else? I could make a very long list but I consider the following reasons as my main answers. -
I am amazed at the variation in design, material and mechanism one can find in this single item.
Corkscrews are easily displayed, do not take to much space and all have a story to tell.
Collecting corkscrews is a very social hobby as you have clubs and arenas where you meet and make good friends.
There is a continuous flow of research, literature, newsletters etc. on the subject which makes collecting corkscrews dynamic and not static.
Corkscrews can be a good investment and are easily bought and sold.
The interest in corkscrews is growing continuously, hopefully we all can contribute to this.
Fred Kincaid, Vermont, U. S. A. (Current Right of the ICCA)
Corkscrews soothe my soul. I can enjoy equally a great piece and a $10 find that adds to my collection. Collecting is something I have done all my life. Maybe it takes me back to the innocent years. Bottom line I am addicted.
Frank Ellis, United Kingdom
Why do I collect corkscrews? My wife Barbara says it is because I am stupid.
If I didn't collect corkscrews I'd collect something else.
Initially, because they are aesthetically pleasing, lovely to look at and a delight to hold. They are interesting because they have lots of details and conceptually they can be neatly put in order in categorisation boxes. Some are very innovative in their mechanisms, some are wonderful concepts of design. There is data to gather which can be used to categorise and date them.
Their design and construction reflect the development of new materials and technology over the past 250 years. They also reflect social changes and design styles in these years from the elegance on the mansion table to the utilitarian in the 50s kitchen drawer.
As a Yorkshireman, I grew up wanting to save money by finding a bargain. When I realised early on that I could get things cheaper than they were shown in Christopher Sykes catalogue, my "buy-a-bargain" instinct kicked in. By the time I realised the real situation, the addiction had set in. They provide targets in life to aspire to, challenges to achieve and a satisfaction at the kill. They are hopefully an investment and a contribution to my pension.
For personal satisfaction of becoming a world expert in something. My analytical and research orientated mind likes completeness and needs the satisfaction of discovering all there is to know about a topic. It is a great topic of conversation and a useful professional ice breaker You collect what? And youve written a book* on them! but at least Im not the only stupid one.
*Frank and Barbara Ellis authored the book Corkscrews: British Design Registrations
Wolfgang Handel, Germany (Former Right of the ICCA)
I am a corkscrew collector for the following reasons:
A lady friend of mine gave me the first corkscrew (a peg and worm from Scotland, 200 years old) after I had complained about a bottle of wine she had brought from her vacation as a birthday gift for me. Asking me about my judgement, I told her openly: It is the kind of wine you better drink where it was grown during your vacation. However, she still is a good friend of mine, we drink sometimes a (good) bottle of wine together and she admires my corkscrew collection.
My grandfather was a wine grower, I love wines since I was ten years old, maintain today a first class wine cellar and urgently need stuff to open the bottles. I
like all the people that collect corkscrews and appreciate their friendship and enjoy their company. Most of them seem to be crazy (addicted) like me.
After almost thirty years of collecting I still like corkscrews of all styles, particularly everything.
Tommy Campnell, Illinois, U. S. A.
It's a great hobby that allows me to escape my everyday life-style, although now, it totally consumes nearly all of my free time. Ah.... The thrill of the hunt! Josef was right. Corkscrew Collecting is much more mature than collecting Beanie Babies at the age of 30.
Paul Luchsinger, Virginia, U. S. A.
It is all about adventure and finding something unexpected as you round the next corner--whether it be corkscrews or friends on far-off adventures. Above photo - discovery of the giant Walker corkscrew with the approximately. 24" long elk horn handle (a Pennsylvania elk at that) by a "picker" friend in Northeast / Erie, Pennsylvania at a garage sale--probably within twenty miles of the building where the corkscrew was manufactured. My picker friend knew what he had and I paid dearly for it but why not.
Photo below - Drinking Champagne at 8am on a Saturday morning in 2006 with fellow corkscrew friends in Sydney, Australia, just prior to a day of winery touring in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney - the day only got better (Paul is fourth from left in the photo).
Carroll Johnson, Kansas, U. S. A.
I collect corkscrews because of their ingenuity, beauty, historical association, rarity, and the function they serve in opening wine. Although I don't drink wine anymore I still enjoy all aspects of collecting and especially the camaraderie of other corkscrew collectors. I just love it when I discover something new or different.
Pictured at left is a photo of an historical corkscrew. This is an English 19th century polished steel two-pillar corkscrew with a turned oak handle bearing a rolled gold shield-shaped plaque inscribed with, "This handle is part of an Oak Pile that was for 656 years under the London Bridge". The two pillars are inscribed, "The Iron Shoe of an Oak Pile that was 656 years in the foundation of Old London Bridge". In "Simple, Early Corkscrew Mechanisms" (1981), Bernard Watney wrote "A very rare corkscrew, about 1831-1832, by J Ovenston of Titchfield Street London."
Josef L'Africain, Massachusetts, U. S. A.
Josef was dashing off on a road trip in search of corkscrews when asked to tell us briefly why he collects corkscrews. Before grabbing his rucksack, he emailed this response:
Why corkscrews? Well, we drink a lot and they come in handy.
When we asked Fred O'Leary why he collects corkscrews, he emailed this confession:
I am convinced the urge to collect is innate. Collectors are born with it, although not necessarily the chosen field. It usually takes an external event to release the gene, and that comes from living. So to some extent it is accidental based on other (unrelated) decisions made in life. In my case I went through comic books, stamps, post cards and coins before corkscrews stuck. (I wish I still had the comic books but my mother saw to that when she cleaned out the attic while I was away at college. Otherwise my life might have taken a different turn. The coins are still with me since I didn't get started until after graduation. It took money to buy money. Comic books went for 10¢!).
So why corkscrews?
After getting married in 1964, Sue and I determined that the resort business was for us. Preceded by a year of travel in Europe soaking up cultures and ideas, we apprenticed at lodges and restaurants in ski resorts, settling finally on Tahoe where we opened our own restaurant. Restaurants serve wine; restaurants need to be decorated; ergo, I scoured the local antique shops and boutiques rounding up wine artifacts - Bacchus figurines, tastevins, plastic grape clusters and corkscrews. The collecting bug did not bite me at the time. I was too busy.
Years later, the inevitable happened. Mildly successful in our first venture, the second restaurant bombed. The dishes, the pots and pans, the furniture, etc. all were sold to pay the meat company. Nobody wanted the plastic grapes, et al, so it was all donated to the second-hand stores except, providentially, the corkscrews. They went into a box in the closet.
Fast forward a dozen or so years to closet clean-out time. I had forgotten about the box. I wish I could say that it contained a gem, or a rare and sought after American patent or 18th century steel ring pull. Alas, the old weathered non-descript wood handle T-screws were all there was. Not a one was valuable in a monetary sense. But they were priceless in a life-changing way. Something inside was triggered, although I did not sense it at the time. It was not like being hit by a lightning bolt. I simply found myself quietly, almost clandestinely, visiting antique shops, attending flea markets, stopping off at garage sales on weekends, all with the intent of complementing my seed corkscrews. Most collectors reading this can probably identify with the behavior.
One day at a local antique show I met a dealer. Some may know or have heard of Aaron Corenman. He was once a member of the ICCA. He had an assortment of corkscrews for sale - nothing outstanding - and a book. I bought a couple of corkscrews and I bought Watney & Babbidge "Corkscrews for Collectors". Laying the corkscrews aside when I got home, I read the book cover to cover. Then I read it again... and again and again There was something about the design, the engineering, the historical context of corkscrews that leapt off the pages into my sponge brain. I would never be the same again.
Aaron is no longer with us, but at had built a small catalogue business in corkscrews to supplement shows. I got on his mailing list and to his day still have all the old past-up stapled pages that he mailed out periodically. I could only wish I had bought everything! Instead, I worked the bottom, accumulating an assortment of "starters". No matter. Corkscrews were no longer just a curiosity. I had become a c-o-l-l-e-c-t-o-r!
Then one day came the moment of truth. The difference this time was that I knew it, Sue knew it, Aaron knew it and my bank account knew it. Diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer's, Aaron was divesting himself of everything - his entire inventory and his private collection, which was considerable. I found myself in his living room (he lived only a few miles away) surrounded by museum-quality corkscrews, the likes of which I had seen only in pictures in Watney & Babbidge. Thomasons, Royal Club, King's Screws, English and Dutch silver, Meissen it was all there. I had the chance to cherry-pick one of the world's great collections, each piece laid out for the touching and feeling, and all individually priced. What a glorious moment it was.
I did not act upon the excitement swelling up inside me like a volcano about to erupt. (I was lucky. I did not appreciate how rarely one gets a second chance.) There was no sleeping that night. Here I stood with a "collection" built upon 2-figure purchases, face-to-face with not just 3-figure prices but 4! Needless to say it was past time for nibbling. The hook had been set, yanked and I was in the net! I purchased some great corkscrews that next day which now form the nucleus of my collection. In one fell swoop I had gone from buying stuff out of pocket change to acquiring an asset. How I wish I had bought more assets. But what I did purchase worked its magic.
I collect because I enjoy the hunt, even though it has evolved into more of an electronic phenomenon than a physical search (I miss those pre-dawn flea markets in little country towns). I collect because of the rush I get in making a great find. I collect because it makes me feel good being surrounded by corkscrews. I collect because it gives me a tangible link to history. I collect because it opens up infinite opportunities for research and learning and sharing. I like displaying corkscrews, cleaning them, fixing them, trading them, selling them, even using them (carefully). Collecting is stimulating, energizing, focusing - some would say even addicting. As a serendipity collecting has brought us lasting friends, allowed us to travel and experience other life-styles not available through the guide books. Lastly, the collection has diversified our estate. None of this was ever the "plan". It became what it is. Corkscrews have been the vehicle for personal fulfillment and will probably be my legacy.
O'Leary, a California resident, is the author of Corkscrews: 1000 Patented Ways to Open a Bottle.
And, reader, why do you collect corkscrews? Email us your story!
We have all travelled extensively in search of corkscrews. In our travels we dig and dig until we find those pieces which we can take home and put on display. We make many new friends on these trips. But the Internet has changed the hunting game but not the friends one can make. eBay brought hordes of corkscrews out of kitchen drawers, closets, and attic boxes. It also brought reproductions and fakes. New collectors were often duped into buying what they thought was genuine. They bid and they learned (hopefully).
Now there is good news. The International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts is hosting an auction website where each corkscrew listed goes through an approval process before being shown "live" on the site.
What are the benefits?:
- Beginners get to buy great pieces, forming the foundation of a collection
- Long-term collectors can upgrade by filling voids or selling selectively to reconfigure a collection
- Corkscrew dealers and general antique dealers with an occasional corkscrew can reach interested buyers directly, avoiding the hit-or-miss exposure of eBay, antique shows, flea markets, antique malls, etc.
- The entire corkscrew world benefits from gaining a highly visible and reliable reference for gauging the value of collections for insurance and estate purposes
What kind of corkscrews are in the auctions? Only genuine antiques with a minimum value of $100.
The address of the site is http://www.auction.icca-corkscrew.com/
©2008 Don Bull, Editor