Ingenious and novel collection of old corkscrews is worth raising a glass of wine to
NEXT time you’re in South Africa, take a 50-minute drive from Cape Town to Franschhoek, a picturesque town nestled in the winelands of the Western Cape.
Known as the gourmet capital of the country, it boasts many awardwinning vineyards and magnificent restaurants… and The Old Corkscrew, an antiques shop opened in 1994 by Jeremy Astfalck and his wife, June.
Jeremy is one of South Africa’s leading silver dealers and specialises in the more unusual aspects of silver collecting. Naturally, given its location, his shop also offers many wine-related antiques, including Africa’s largest collection of antique corkscrews.
The back wall of the shop is festooned with around 800 of the devices, all of which are for sale.
For the home-based collector, a flight to Cape Town might be a step too far, so at the end of the month, Jeremy is bringing at least some of his corkscrews (among other fine antiques and works of art) to the UK.
He will be one of the new exhibitors at the annual six-day Winter Art & Antiques Fair at London Olympia (see panel) and in addition to a preview of those he has for sale, he offered to explain the appeal of the oenophile’s essential tool.
Surprisingly, he exaplains that the idea behind the corkscrew began before wine was stored in bottles and even casks. “One can see the development of the simple twisted spiral with the early development of firearms as the need to remove misfired lead balls and wadding necessitated a long rod with a worm on the end that could be twisted into the blockage and pulled out,” he says.
When the use of wine bottles became universal in the mid-18th century, the development and refinement of the corkscrew as we know it today began in earnest using exactly the same technique.
“Just when a smart inventor thought he had nailed the ultimate corkscrew design though, the goal posts changed and it was back to the drawing board,” Jeremy says.
Dating is aided by changes in manufacturing techniques and materials. The introduction of a brush on the end of a corkscrew handle, for example, helps set the date to the late 18th century, when wine bottles were laid in the cellar.
“If, as was so often the case, a bottle was dusty to the point where the label was obscured, the brush could help clear matters,” Jeremy explains.
Such brushes were common up until the first quarter of the 20th century and normally made of hog’s bristle set into the handle using bitumen. “Today many have been lost but they can be easily replaced and this will not affect the value of the corkscrew,” he says.
Some of the rarest and most expensive corkscrews from the 18th century were fashioned in silver and gold. The earliest versions were simple folding bows where the steel worm was housed in a silver sheath that folded into the silver bow.
These sheaths were often lost, but an example Jeremy is bringing to the fair is marked with the initials I.S. “Dating to about 1770, the only other example bearing this maker’s mark was part of the Bernard Watney collection and was on a Dublinmade Irish corkscrew,” he says.
Another is a George III silver “roundlet” corkscrew, made by Joseph Taylor and assayed (tested for silver content) in Birmingham in 1792.
“An ingenious design, the steel corkscrew and shaft fold up and retract into the silver case, which can then be carried in a pocket without the risk of injury.
This design is known as a ‘Beau Brummell’, named after the famous dandy,” Jeremy adds.
A cast silver corkscrew modelled as a rocking horse by Hendrik Smook, which is marked for Amsterdam 1761, is a small work of art, even if the subject matter’s connection to wine is unclear.
In the last 200 years there has been myriad technically superb registered designs and many of these are the classics sought after by collectors now. One dating from the late 19th century in particular is finding universal appeal today.
“By the late 1880s the popularity of the French dance halls such as the Moulin Rouge and the risqué cancan saw the emergence of the Germanmade folding ‘Gay Nineties’ picnic corkscrews in the shape of a lady’s stockinged legs. Scandalous to Victorian society, they stole the show then as they do now,” Jeremy adds. The country pursuits of hunting and fishing often inspired corkscrew design and a silver salmon corkscrew, made by Henry Wells, has a curve and the satisfying weighty feel of the fish. “The handle sits comfortably in one’s hand when working out the cork and this successful design was granted a British registered design in 1895,” Jeremy says. The example for sale was assayed in Birmingham in 1902, although the pattern continued to be produced well into the 20th century. As the 20th century progressed the range of designs produced from across the world was staggering. “One that strikes a chord is an English brass single-sided corkscrew dating from the 1950s depicting a tired girl carrying a hot water bottle on her way to bed. Marked “WHAT A DAY”. The suggestion of a glass of wine followed by a warm bed was postulated as the antidote to modern day life,” Jeremy reveals.
What a day: A corkscrew for those looking for an antidote to modern day life
Inset bottom left: Naughty nineties picnic corkscrews in the shape of a lady’s stockinged legs A corkscrew modelled as a salmon to appeal to the angling enthusiast
A folding bow corkscrew retaining its silver sheath with I.S.maker’s mark dating to about 1770 and probably Irish
A corkscrew with a brush for cleaning the bottle and a ratchet-driven mechanism
A “Beau Brummell” corkscrew made to carry in the pocket. It dates from 1792