The Corkscrew — A Thing of Beauty

By Paul Luchsinger
“We are but temporary custodians of everything that we collect.”
This philosophy reflects the decision made by all antiquities collectors.
   As he approaches the healthy age of 90, Paolo de Sanctis, the doyen of Italian corkscrew collectors, and publisher of several books on the subject, is selling the collection he started 60 years ago. Like most major collectors selling or downsizing in recent years, he is using the online auction operated by his fellow volunteer collectors,
   In earlier years, many major collections were sold at Christie’s biannual corkscrew auctions in London. When Christie’s ceased these sales in 2004, no doubt under pricing pressure from Ebay, there was a void. In 2008, corkscrew collectors established their own online biannual sales with even lower selling fees. Ten years on, they have sold over 10,000 corkscrews for over $5 million.
   The highlight of the recent April sale of de Sanctis corkscrews was undoubtedly a beautiful 18th century French sheathed corkscrew. This piece dates to the Louis XVI period just before the French Revolution when French craftsmanship was at its peak. The elaborate chasing and well preserved gilding on the sheath and bow handle, and the intricate design of the bow, transform iron into an item of great beauty. Note the perfect double grooved flat ribbon worm, characteristic of the period. Understandably this piece attracted great interest from leading collectors, selling for almost $17,000 after 48 bids.
   Another 18th century French sheathed corkscrew from the de Sanctis collection also sold very well, for $4,300. This 18th Cent. Fish Handle Corkscrew was a very different piece- rustic and simple ironwork with a “shortened” Archimedean worm. Not at all impressive or attractive to the casual observer. However, this was older and rarer than the beautiful example above with a very distinctive fish-shape handle. It attracted a keen bidding contest between 2 specialist collectors. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder.
   A further 18th century sheathed corkscrew was an interesting combination with a nutmeg grater! Gentlemen of the time would use the nutmeg to flavor their wine because early corks were not of good quality. The host would open the special wine at the table with the nutmeg grater corkscrew and sniff the aroma. If the aroma was not pleasant, nutmeg gratings were dropped into the wine bottle and the wine then was sampled. If the wine displayed good taste, it was served to the guests. Nutmeg is a strong flavor and this method saved many wines and the respective hosts in the 18th and 19th centuries.
   This elegantly simple silver combination is unmarked (as is usual) but is known to have been made in London in the mid-18th century. It has 4 components: the sheath to protect the screw, the screw attached to a bowl to hold the ungrated nutmeg, the grater and the lid.
   The assembled piece is shaped as a ceremonial mace, a visual pun on the spice “mace” which is made from nutmeg shells. Five of these nutmeg combinations have sold over the years in CollectorCorkscrews auctions and the $4,600 price for this piece was typical for an example in such good condition.
   Many of the de Sanctis corkscrews were more affordable. This 4th corkscrew is an American piece from the early 20th century. It incorporates the well-known “Walker” bell and was produced by Walker Manuf. of Erie, PA. This is Edwin Walker’s 3rd patent of 1900, incorporating a caplifter for the newly invented crown seal. The Walker bell is one of the most common US cork-screws, selling for a few dollars when attached to a simple wood handle. But this example has a very stylish and decorative silver handle; it sold for $480 with 12 active bidders.
   The recent April on-line corkscrew auction was conducted by, a twice yearly on-line auction sale operated by volunteer collectors worldwide with low selling fees of 2.5%. Over 10,000 corkscrews, ranging in price from $100 to over $30,000 have been sold since the initial auction in 2008, representing over $5,000,000 in sales.
   All past sales results can be freely viewed by visitors in the PAST SALES section of the web site at Also this is an excellent method for obtaining a value estimate of most corkscrews in a personal collection. The next international on-line auction is Nov. 2-11, 2018. New buyers and sellers may register at time to participate in upcoming November auction. Between auction sales, there is always a good range of lower cost corkscrews available for immediate purchase in the BUY NOW section of
   Photos from top of article: French Heart shaped handle, Fish shape handle, Nutmeg Grater, Walker Bell

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