UN­EX­PECTED TWISTS

In­ge­nious and novel col­lec­tion of old corkscrews is worth rais­ing a glass of wine to

Harefield Gazette - - ANTIQUES FAIR -

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

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