The Virtual Corkscrew Museum's Weekly Newspaper

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Number 549

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About Corkscrews

Editor's note: This rather lengthy, but interesting article appeared in the New York Sun in 1884. Photos have been added and details can be found below this article.

The corkscrew is a contrivance to facilitate the removal of corks from bottles. When a cork protrudes from the neck of the bottle far enough to admit of grasping it with the hand or clinching it with the teeth, a corkscrew is unnecessary. But when a cork is flush with the bottle's mouth, or, through unskillful manipulation, has become lodged down in the neck, a corkscrew is not only a convenience but almost a necessity. The bottle may be emptied of its liquid contents by crowding the cork down through the neck with a penholder or any other suitable article that may be at hand, but this method of opening a bottle is generally regarded as inelegant.

There are several kinds of corkscrews. That which has been the longest in use is the simplest. For several hundred years it was the best, until a genius added an improvement which brought it to perfection. The primeval corkscrew consisted of a wire, pointed at one end, twisted into a spiral with about five turns tempered to give rigidity to it, and provided with a wooden handle like that of a gimlet. The spiral part of the wire was about two inches long after being twisted, the part left straight was about the same length, and the wooden cross piece was round, and about three inches in length and half an inch in diameter. The handle was made fast to the metal by putting the wire through a hole in the wood and clinching it. The metal was not burnished, nor was the wood polished or painted. It is safe to say that there never was a corkscrew job which could not have been accomplished with one of these primeval corkscrews.

The name of the inventor of the corkscrew has not been handed down to these generations. He lived before the days of letters patent. It is held be a certain school of theorists that he was no other than Archimedes. The similarity of the corkscrew to the spiral of Archimedes is r= a theta. The corkscrew can not have a constant equation, for the pitch varies not only in different screws, but in the different spirals of the same screw. A corkscrew fashioned after the equation of the spiral of Archimedes, with important modifications, would be serviceable; but there seems to be no sufficient reason for believing that Archimedes invented the corkscrew.

An important improvement in corkscrews is mentioned in the foregoing. In order to comprehend its value, the practical use of the ordinary corkscrew must be understood. The bottle is grasped by the neck with the left hand, the top of the cork is pricked with the point of the spiral, and about six or seven half twists are given to the corkscrew. The body of the bottle is then gripped between the knees , and a lifting force is applied to the corkscrew and through it to the cork. The removal of the cork is accompanied by a sound which may be fairly imitated by putting the left forefinger in the mouth with its end against the inner surface of the right cheek, inflating the cheeks, and then removing the finger by a quick push against the yielding right hand corner of the mouth. His perfected corkscrew has the blunt end of the wire brought back through the wooden handle and twisted around the stem of the corkscrew till it comes down to the top of the spiral, where it is would into a concentric coil. When the spiral has sunk into the cork the blunt end of this coil strikes against the cork near its periphery, and with the purchase thus obtained the cork is turned around in the neck of the bottle and withdrawn far more gently than with the unimproved corkscrew [see Clough Patent below]. A good article of the perfected pattern may be bought for about fifteen cents in almost any general store in the country. In a cutlery establishment in the city the price would not be over seventy-five cents.

There are other complications which are intended to increase the usefulness of the corkscrew or make it more conveniently portable. A metallic contrivance shaped like the bow of a jews harp, is substituted for the wooden handle, and the stem of the spiral is fastened between the ends of the bow with a pin in such a manner that the implement may be shut up like a pocket knife. This pattern of portable corkscrew is adapted for excursion or picnics, where there may be bottles of milk to be opened [see "Barnes 1884 Patent" below]. There is also a very elaborate kind of corkscrew sold in some of the drug stores and cutlery establishments. It is nickel plated and looks as formidable as a toy steam engine. It is so constructed that after it has been adjusted the engineer has only to keep on twisting and the cork will be hoisted high and dry [see "Chinnock 1884 Patent" below]. There are a few rules regarding the use of the corkscrew which are generally observed by the elite. The place for the corkscrew is not by the side of the hostess's plate. Champagne bottles are not opened with a corkscrew, nor condensed milk cans, nor cocoanuts. Any person who has tried to take small cucumber pickles from a bottle with a corkscrew will ever afterward endeavor to have a pickle fork at hand, if he does not go to the extreme of having the pickles removed from the original package before they are brought to the table. It may be set forth as general rule that any attempt to utilize the corkscrew for any purpose other than the removal of corks will result in embarrassment, and had best not be tried except in privacy.

Editor's note: Further information on the corkscrews referenced in the above article are found below.

Clough 1876 Patent

On February 1, 1876, William Rockwell Clough was granted U. S. Patent No. 172,868 for his corkscrew with twisted wire. The example pictured here is a "Duplex Power Corkscrew." Clough's first claim was "A corkscrew formed of a single piece of wire, a portion of the wire being formed into a screw, its upper part formed into a handle, and its free end utilized to strengthen the shank between the handle and screw.

Barnes 1884 Patent

Photo courtesy of Josef L'Africain

U. S. Patent No. 299,100 was issued to Joshua Barnes on May 27, 1884. Barnes' fourth claim was "A corkscrew with a folding handle, provided with convex jaws fitting into corresponding concavities in the shank of the screw-coil, and provided with a hook or hooks." The hooks could be used as a wire breaker or as the writer of the 1884 suggests for opening bottles of milk!

Chinnock 1884 Patent

Photo courtesy of Milt Becker

This is Charles Chinnock's U. S. Patent No. 299,738 issued June 3, 1884. The writer of the 1884 article compares it to a "toy steam engine." Chinnock's first claim was "The combination, in a corkscrew, of a screw having a left-hand and a right-hand thread, a handle running upon said left-hand thread, and a bridge having its top formed into a sleeve, through which said screw passes, and its base terminating in a circular collar."

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