Corkscrew collectors acquire new pieces through a number of different channels; Ebay, live auctions, antique stores, etc. One of the consequences of collecting is that occasionally you have to purchase a lot which includes items other than that one rare corkscrew. Because of this, it's not uncommon for the seasoned collector to start to accumulate some unintended purchases.
I recently acquired a corkscrew in a lot that had some of the most unusual bycatch that I've acquired to date.
These are 3 antique toilet paper holders as well as some sort of wall mounted clip which may or may not be a related item. I'm not sure if there are people who collect these, but either way, these will eventually make their way out of my house.
If you have been reading then you know that I've been searching for corkscrews on my week long vacation to Paso Robles, CA. As of my last post, all that I had bought were 2 lots of bottle openers which I had decided to wait until I returned home to open since they were wrapped like a couple kilos of cocaine being smuggled from Colombia.
Anyway, it has been a grueling and discouraging search, but I'm finally home and ready to share the results. We visited around 25 antique stores/malls in total during the trip. While we did find a good number of corkscrews, few were worth buying and even fewer were reasonable priced. Below you will find some of the overpriced corkscrews that we found in the antique stores as well as the massive bucket of bottle openers that I dug through to no avail.
Finally some decent corkscrews, but unfortunately still overpriced.
And then I spot what at first glance looks to be a Syroco scotty dog corkscrew; an excellent find if it's priced reasonably. My excitement quickly subsides as I realise that this corkscrew is not a Syroco, but I'm still intrigued and since the label wasn't visible, we asked to have the case opened. The corkscrew, marked on the underbelly "ITALY", was made of an unknown material; not quite plastic, but not quite wood and was fairly light. As I try to decipher the writing on the tag, I ask the employee if the number written is the price or the dealer number. She explains that the number is the price ($195) and I quickly toss it back as if it was a lobster which hasn't yet reached its maturity.
The employee proceeds to explain that there is a discount in this booth. 50%, quite a large discount. She starts to read the flyer and stops dead in her tracks and looks back with an awkward sigh.
We persist and find an antique mall in a very rural part of California. Finally, we make a purchase! Its an American direct pull corkscrew marked H & B MFG CO with brush.
And don't forget the 2 bottle opener lots. There were a total of 5 corkscrews.
I also had 2 corkscrews waiting for me at home that were purchased from online sources. On the left is a Williamson stag handled corkscrew. The one on the right appears to be made from a walrus tusk and is very heavy.
We're officially half way through our trip to Paso Robles, CA. So far we've seen nearly all of the local museums as well as the antique stores. There's been no shortage of good food and wine, but per usual, we've found little to nothing in the way of corkscrews in the antique stores/malls.
So far, we've been to around 15 antique stores. Nearly everything that we've found has either not been worth buying or too overpriced. We visited one store which I would rank as the 3rd worst antique store that I've ever seen. It was more of a hoarder's junk pile than an antique store, but when asked, the owner was able to find a few common corkscrews with bent helixes. He said he had some more corkscrews, but it would take him 2 days to dig through a room to find them. I gave him my card and told him to email me if he ever found them. The store owner then told us that he has never used a computer in his life and proceeded to show us his flip phone that was almost old enough to be in an antique store.
But the search continued and I finally did manage to buy something. I bought 2 mystery lots of bottle openers pictured below for a total of $15. I can see that one of the bags contains 2 can opener corkscrews, but for the most part, the rest of the contents are somewhat of a mystery. I'll wait until I return home to unpack them.
Today we finally found some corkscrews worth purchasing, but unfortunately they weren't for sale as they were a part of the Paso Robles Historical Society Museum. I was happy to see that they had such an accurate description of the corkscrews.
We have a few days left and we're sure to visit some more antique stores, so there's still hope although it's waning quickly.
I wanted to share a few tips that I have gained over the years on the restoration, cleaning and caring of vintage corkscrews, but first a few suggestions on what to avoid:
"Restoration" isn't for every corkscrew. A Lot of times it's better to leave the patina as is, but sometimes you come across a piece in which attempting to repair or modify it can only make it better. Often the easiest and least invasive step is to simply clean the item with a slightly damp cloth and warm water. Many of the corkscrews in our collection are over 100 years old and have been used for many years resulting in a coating of grime which can easily be removed with some light cleaning. Sterling silver end caps are fairly common on vintage corkscrews and should be polished regularly with silver polish using a cotton cloth. Renaissance Wax is your best friend and a small jar will last you a lifetime. This product is a microcrystalline wax which was produced for museum use and can be used on pretty much any material. Apply a small amount using a clean cotton cloth then buff to a fine finish. Renaissance Wax will protect all materials from both air and moisture which can cause both tarnishing of silver as well as rust. Finally super glue; what would we do without superglue? The magical concoction which keeps parts from wiggling. Always use sparingly and try not to let it show. You can always use pure acetone to dilute and remove excess super glue. Below you will find a picture of a corkscrew I purchased on Ebay. The first picture is from the listing. This corkscrew was so dirty that I thought it had a crack extending from where the shank connected to the handle. The second picture shows the same corkscrew after going through the general cleaning and restoration steps above.
I'm a firm believer in keeping your Sterling polished. This can be accomplished by using regular store bought silver polish. I would avoid the types in which you have to submerge the silver into water as many corkscrews with Sterling silver include other materials which need to be kept dry (ex: stag horn). The brand that I have found works best is Weiman Silver Polish.
Wood, like most materials needs to be stored in certain conditions. When I talk about wood handles, I'm mainly speaking of the older varieties of lathe turned hardwoods. These tend to dry out over time. Sometimes you will come across examples that have cracked due to the environment they have been stored in. Once cracked, it's doubtful that it will ever be the same, but you can polish up the wood and help to protect it at the same time by polishing wood handles using linseed oil. This will return some of the luster to the wood and help to keep the necessary moisture content which will help to prevent future cracking.
Ivory and other similar polished bone handles are very porous so you must be very careful when cleaning these materials. Renaissance Wax is an excellent product for both polishing and protecting this type of material.
Stag horn is a very common material of vintage corkscrews. Unlike the other materials listed here, you should take particular caution when cleaning stag horn as it is probably the most porous material listed here. It can be cleaned with warm water and a damp cloth. Be careful not to soak the horn or get it too wet.
Occasionally you'll find a corkscrew with a slight bend in the helix. These can SOMETIMES be corrected using a set of pliers and some force. I'm mainly speaking of corkscrews where the tip is slightly bent out of place. If the helix has multiple bends throughout it then you're screwed. Be very careful and only use as much pressure as is needed as too much pressure may snap the tip off. If you're on the fence on whether or not to try to fix it, why not, it's already "broken" so there's not much more you can do to hurt it.
Rust may be one of the most common problems that collectors face. One of the best rust removal methods that I have found is simply to use tin foil and water. This works especially well on chrome/nickel plated surfaces. Because the aluminum is a softer metal, it leaves few scratches and acts as a good buffing agent. Take a look at the Yankee No. 1 bar screw that I got for a good price on a Buy- it-now. As you can see, it had a lot of surface rust and pitting as well as grease and grime when I bought it. Using only aluminum foil, water, and some scrubbing it looks much better.
A Restoration Example
I purchased the springbok corkscrew below from a seller in Puerto Rico. It almost looks as though it had been sitting in an open window next to the sea for decades, but it is the perfect example to show the results of some of the techniques listed above. As you can see, the helix is completely covered in rust, the Sterling silver end caps are extremely tarnished, and the springbok horn itself is very dry and faded.
After a lot of polishing, the Sterling silver end caps are bright and clean again. I also cleaned the horn using warm water.
After applying 3 coats of oil to the horn. It's important to let the oil soak into the horn, especially when it is as dried out as this example was.
Restoration in progress. More updates to come.
Corkscrew collectors acquire new pieces through a number of different channels; Ebay, live auctions, antique stores, etc. One of the consequences of collecting is that occasionally you have to purchase a lot which includes items other than that one rare corkscrew. Because of this, it's not uncommon for the seasoned collector to start to accumulate some unintended purchases. Below is some of the corkscrew bycatch that I have acquired over time.
My corkscrew buying hasn't slowed down, quite the contrary. With the corkscrews comes more unintended non corkscrew items.
I managed to acquire 4 vintage gadget canes in the pursuit of corkscrew gadget canes. 3 have concealed lighters and one is a pool cue.
We continue to add not only corkscrews to our collection, but also corkscrew displays; despite the fact that we are running out of walls to display them.
One of the projects that we started was to convert this wine rack which sits inside one of our bars into a corkscrew display board with shelving behind it. With two wine cellars in our house, this wine rack has never been used except to display various bar jiggers and barrel taps.
Step 1: Remove the bar jiggers and barrel taps; the difficult to display items have found a new home in a closet.
Step 2: We replaced the ceiling light with a special low profile fixture so that the new corkscrew board/door will clear the light.
Step 3: Remove the finish molding around the wine rack.
Step 4: Come to the realization that this wine rack was built very well and with many nails.
Step 10?: I may have gotten ahead of myself and skipped a few steps because I completed the display board which is going to cover the area where the wine rack (still stands) use to be. Damn those hidden nails! They really built this think to last.
More progress coming eventually.
Occasionally a corkscrew owned by a celebrity will come up for auction. Rarely will you see a corkscrew that was owned by a US president. In September of 2016, Christie's auction house sold many personal items owned by former president Ronald Reagan. I was interested in one lot in particular.
While none of the items in the lot are particularly rare, the fact that they belonged to a US president made these otherwise common items extremely collectable. Of the corkscrews themselves, one is a very common waiters corkscrew. The other is a nice stag handled corkscrew made by John Hasselbring in New York. Other pieces include a bottle opener, jigger, and stir stick all of which may have been part of a boxed set at one time.
I tuned in to the live auction as it was about to begin. Prepared to bid a fairly high amount for the lot, my excitement quickly subsided as soon as the auction began. The first lot which consisted of some fairly basic walking sticks sold for over $6,000. The second lot, a leather umbrella holder, sold for over $9,000. I soon realised that every estimate in this auction would be shattered including the estimate of $1,000-$2,000 that was placed on the corkscrew lot. When the lot finally came up, the price shot up past my limit before I even had a chance to bid. In the end the lot sold for $5,250.
Fortunately for me, I already own several John Hasselbring corkscrews including some pictured below. However it remains unclear whether any of these were owned by a President.
After New Years Eve (several years back) my family and I went on a little vacation. We took a road trip visiting many small towns and big cities in Texas. Things got exciting when we stopped in a nearly deserted small town, which will remain undisclosed, and found a group of antique stores. We went into two that had freshly made crafts and one that was nearly empty save for a few nice antique items, but not a corkscrew to be seen. Since we were running low on time we asked one of the shop owners where we could find some antique corkscrews and she pointed us in the direction of the antique mall. We entered this large antique mall and started looking through cases full of small items all while discussing how we never find any good corkscrews in antique stores anymore. As I was looking through many little trinkets in one of the cases, my eye caught the sight of a small silver dog with a long body and quickly realized that it was an infamous Crosby Pup corkscrew. It is believed that Bing Crosby produced around 60 of these corkscrews to give to his closest friends, which have historically sold for an average of $1,000. The one I found had a price tag of $15 and it was in a case with 15% off, making this find the best deal we have ever found at an antique store. As you can see, our Crosby Pup is in near perfect condition. We plan to keep this one in our collection.
I am regularly contacted by people who have corkscrews to sell. As luck would have it, I was contacted by someone who wished to sell a Crosby pup corkscrew. I already had one at the time, but knowing the rarity of the item I jumped at the opportunity to acquire another one of the rare gifts that Bing Crosby gave to his friends. So we quickly came to an expensive, but fair price.
We finally found a way to display the large arm corkscrew a year after acquiring it. We decided to mount it in a shadow box. So we built the back and sides out of oak, stained them, wrapped the back in gold satin, mounted the arm and all of the pieces that go with it as well as a fine bottle of French wine for looks, then added the frame and glass. Now we have a new piece of art that always gets commented on. This display was finished around November of 2007.
During the summer of 2014, my parents and I took a trip to Spain and France. During that trip I had the pleasure of seeing the largest corkscrew collection on display at the Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture as well as the finest private corkscrew collection that I had ever seen. (Note that The Museum of Romanian Records now holds the title of largest corkscrew collection on display).
I'm almost ashamed to say this, but without doing any research before our trip, we actually stumbled upon this museum. This isn't just a corkscrew museum it is a museum of all things wine and is the most comprehensive wine museum I have visited. I believe it had something along the lines of 6 different levels with each display more impressive than the last. You start off in this large room filled with farming equipment and slowly progress through the different stages of the winemaking process. Everything from the parasites that kill the vines to the barrel making process and tools is covered in this museum.
You finally enter this room filled with valuable wine related antiques. Picassos and other fine works covered the walls, several carved ivory pieces were behind glass including a narwhal horn and an ancient bronze sarcophagus all with wine motifs.
Finally you enter the last room which contains the corkscrew collection. But first, lunch. Did I mention that this place is huge? You can easily spend all day here. Fortunately for us they have an excellent restaurant on the grounds.
I'm constantly adding new corkscrews to my collection. Any new finds as well as articles which may be of interest to corkscrew collectors will be posted here.
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