A corkscrew is a tool that was invented to draw corks from wine, beer, and other bottles before the invention of screw caps.
The form of the corkscrew is simple, consisting of a pointed metallic helix attached to a handle. Corks are typically small and smooth, and as such are difficult to remove from inflexible- and breakable- bottles. To retrieve a cork from a bottle using a corkscrew, the user would simply screw the helix into it until it was firmly embedded, then pull to extract.
References to corkscrews have been noted as early as the 1680s, although they were then dubbed ‘steel worms’. These instruments were variations on the ‘gun worm’, a tool that soldiers used to clean their musket barrels.
Corkscrews were made from the late 1600s, but specimens from this time are difficult to find. Most examples of corkscrews that collectors have interest in are dated to the last 25 years of the 18th century, and were largely made in Germany.
Many sheath-type corkscrew cases were made entirely of silver, although some were made with ivory, inlaid with silver and gold.
Most corkscrews of this kind are about 3 inches long, however tiny examples were also made featuring silver screws. Originally used for removing the corks from perfume bottles, they are highly valued, and sometimes found in ladies travelling dressing cases.
Especially rare 18th century examples of full size corkscrews also featured nutmeg graters.
Generally, 18th century examples survive in fairly excellent condition, the silver being sturdy enough to remain in good shape. The tip of the iron screw, however, may be damaged so late into its life.
Most large 19th century corkscrews were made of brass and iron, though some had silver mounts. It should be noted, however, that this was a very rare occurrence. These examples are undoubtedly the finest – and this most valuable – corkscrews on the collector’s market today.