While collectible corkscrews are typically functional items made of wood, steel or brass, they can be very decorative and made of more valuable materials such as gold, ivory or, most often, silver.
The best silver pieces typically date from the 18th or early 19th centuries and are smaller “pocket” corkscrews, which were used by traveling gentlemen or for desk display. The traveling corkscrew was usually protected by a sheath and often folded.
This protected both the corkscrew’s delicate “worm” from damage and the carrier from injury. While the handle, shaft and sheath may be silver, the working corkscrew itself will still be made of hardened steel.
Such silver pieces are typically Dutch, English or sometimes French, and are eagerly sought after by corkscrew collectors. As the corkscrew collector will usually outbid the general silver collector, many of these pieces are gravitating to the specialist corkscrew auctions conducted by CollectorCorkscrews.com.
The 18th century Dutch sheathed corkscrews are always in demand. They tend to have detailed figural designs and often incorporate a smoking function such as a pipe tamper or pricker. The handle may be a stylized lion or fish. The dedicated corkscrew collector will, once again, usually outbid both the general silver collector and the smoking collector for these pieces.
The English silver pieces from the same period tend to be simpler in design and perhaps more elegant. A fine example is a Georgian silver folding bow corkscrew hallmarked for London 1784, which realized $4,040 at auction in November of 2014.
The most typical English silver piece of the Georgian era is the “T”-style sheathed pocket corkscrew marked Samuel Pemberton with an ivory handle; it sold for $1,262 in a November 2014 auction.
The 18th century English silver pieces may be combined with some other function valued by the traveling gentleman. These English combination items are of high quality but were plain and functional — rather than decorative — and usually unmarked. In recent CollectorCorkscrews.com auctions, there have been several silver nutmeg graters with a nutmeg housed in the corkscrew handle. One example, an 18th century unmarked English nutmeg grater, sold for $3,950. An even older English piece incorporating a tinderbox attracted much interest, as well; the plain unmarked English tinderbox sold for $6,000.
French silver pieces are less common but can be of the highest quality. In a recent sale,
an 18th century French gilded silver bow with richly decorated handle sold for $5,600.
As the 19th century developed, hand craftsmanship was generally replaced by the machine. By the late 19th century, American silver examples had emerged, and some good examples can still be found for reasonable prices. One particularly well designed piece is the 1888 U.S.-patented roundlet of Leroy Fairchild with an ingenious closure mechanism and high quality machining in a range of patterns. A Fairchild “pineapple” pattern recently sold for $500.
While silver is the usual medium for decorative corkscrews, at the top of the market a gold piece will occasionally appear at auction and command high prices. Recently, two gold and agate pieces, both probably French and from the early 19th century, revealed a marked contrast in style. One was much more elaborate, and expensive, than the other: The example featuring agate with detailed gold cagework sold for $21,000, while the example with a gold sheath and faceted agate handle sold for $5,500.
CollectorCorkscrews.com, operating since 2008 by volunteer corkscrew collectors, has sold more than 7,000 corkscrews, earning approximately $5 million. The online auction venue’s next sale opens April 17 with a broad range of silver and other decorative pieces. The auction is divided into four separate sales, which will begin closing April 25. Visit www.collectorcorkscrews.com to view the items available.