Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Cockfight Corkscrew

Bert Giulian sends this posting
The Reemergence of an Important, Early Piece

The Corkscrew: A large, heavy silver corkscrew measuring 15 cm (5.9 inches) in length and weighing 3.75 ounces (116 grams). The corkscrew has a sheath and a large, flat ring handle with two fighting cocks extending from the top. The ring is 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) in outer diameter and is inscribed in an early English script:

On one side: Maintained by Thomas Bostock. Handed by TD

On the other side: At Shrovetide Last a Game there Last
by Bonny Red and Lanthorn bred
Bonny Red in Time of day did stovt dunn slay Lanthorn att night blue ovtt Light

On one edge of the thick ring is engraved the name RED and on the other edge LANTHORN.

The substantial sheath has a well-constructed, subtle seam. The ornamental rings at the top of the sheath were designed as a separate piece and incorporate the interior threading, a technique common on early corkscrews.

The wire helix has two turns, and this short size is also characteristic of the earliest known corkscrews. At that time, corks were small, often extending from the top of the bottle, and did not require stronger worms.

Provenance: The Cockfight Corkscrew was sold at Christies, July, 1982, for ₤2700, at that time a record price for a corkscrew. The estimated date for the corkscrew was stated as 1680. It was owned by the late, respected, English dealer of silver and corkscrews, Brian Beet.

On July 11-28, 1983, the Goldsmiths Company conducted an exhibition entitled The Goldsmith & The Grape, Silver in the service of wine. On that occasion, Bernard Watney wrote an article entitled Silver Corkscrews, seventeenth century to twentieth century. The article included a picture of this corkscrew with the description:

Large English corkscrew with sheathed worm, the inscribed and mounted handle commemorating a cockfight, c. 1680.

The corkscrew was also pictured in the book The Drinker’s Companion, 1987, by Nicholas Rootes, again reporting the sale at Christies and the date as “around 1680”.

The Subject: In addition to being a corkscrew, the piece is a cockfight gaming trophy. Cockfighting was widespread during this period until banned in England and Wales with the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1835.

Matches were particularly popular around “Shrovetide,” the three days before Lent. Major tournament competitions frequently offered cash prizes, and some towns awarded gold cups or other suitable trophies. Prize money could be well in excess of all but the most prestigious horse races, and additional substantial amounts were placed as bets.

The birds were of particular breeds. For example, Bonny Red might have been a Black Red, Shropshire Red, Knowsley Red from Lancashire, or another breed. Victorious fighting cocks were celebrated and, similar to prized race horses, had pedigrees and attained substantial value.

Bonny Red was “maintained” or owned by Thomas Bostock. The cock was “handed” by “TD”, also known as a “cocker” or “feeder”. He was responsible for the feeding, training, and delivery of the birds in peak condition for the fight. A top-level feeder was a man of substance, well respected, well traveled and would be at least as well known as the owner. The initials “TD” are impressive on the ring, imbued with gravitas.

The last few words of the inscription are difficult to interpret. Cockfights were often of short duration, but some could occasionally last for hours. The reference to “night blue” suggests a lengthy and heroic struggle between Red and Lanthorn, and the trophy attests to the adulation of these birds by their enthusiasts.

Discussion: The construction and characteristics of the Cockfight Corkscrew indicate a very early piece. The date was further established at Christies with study of the content, word usage, and lettering style of the inscription. Some of the words are now obsolete. This corkscrew would be one of the oldest and arguably the oldest on record.

The most familiar corkscrews of the early eighteenth century are small pieces for the pocket, often with sheaths and finger rings. Silver corkscrews were common, along with steel examples, and occasionally brass or gold. While the Cockfight Corkscrew has a sheath, it is hardly portable, being two to three times as large as other known early corkscrews. Watney stated in his article:

There is good early evidence that institutions, ranging from churches to gaming clubs, possessed imposing silver corkscrews, as part of their necessary equipment whether for communion or carousing…

Perhaps, these large, heavy duty pieces, required for frequent use rather than strength of pull, in some cases at any rate, predate the growth in fashion for individual, light-weight bottle-screws carried in the waistcoat of the dilettante.

I am not aware of any other corkscrews of this impressive size dating from such an early period of our corkscrew history. Watney’s concept that these larger pieces coexisted with the smaller corkscrews and that they might even antedate the sheathed, finger ring variety is intriguing, but no other large corkscrews have surfaced.

At this time, the Cockfight Corkscrew remains a unique piece, and it is a crossover with silver collectors and with those interested in the immensely popular subject of cockfighting. For some time, the piece has been well known as part of our very earliest corkscrew heritage. The corkscrew has considerable charm and has been famous among collectors of eighteenth century pieces for almost thirty years. It has achieved the status of an icon.

Related Corkscrews: There are few figural corkscrews from the eighteenth century.
Shown here are two other early sheathed corkscrews with handles in the shape of cocks, again testimonies to the interest in cockfighting during this period. These corkscrews are of the more typical length of about 7.5 cm (3 inches), about half the size of the Cockfight Corkscrew.

The oldest is a copper-bronze alloy and would date from the first quarter of the eighteenth century. It is unmarked. The other is brass and is slightly heavier, probably from the second quarter of the century. It is clearly marked on the knop-turned shank with the unidentified cutler’s initials “EW”, possibly Elias Wallins or Wallin of Birmingham. Both sheaths have vertical seams.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Corkscrew Restoration

Some people choose to only collect corkscrews which have remained in perfect condition, but for the rest of us the opportunity to acquire rare and wonderful objects that are a bit damaged or worn, sometimes for a fraction of the cost of a perfect example, is too good to pass up. For some years now Roberta Gordon, based in New York City, has been restoring corkscrews to a very high standard. Working with ivory, bone, horn, tortoiseshell, celluloid and other plastic material her restoration is almost invisible to the naked eye. If you collect other objects as well as corkscrews, Roberta also restores ceramics and enamel. Most jobs usually don't take more than a month, so if you send her an email with a picture she will send you an estimate.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Observations on Corkscrew Patents and Patentees No.2

•The requirements of a good corkscrew are that it breaks the seal between a tight cork and the bottle, that it doesn’t break the neck of the bottle, that it pulls the cork out without breaking it, and that the helix of the corkscrew doesn’t break during removal. It also helps that it has a mechanical advantage, and that the worm is placed at the centre of
the cork. The use of a ratchet to obviate the need to remove the hand at every half turn is an unnecessary luxury.
•All of these problems have been addressed with varying degrees of success by inventors since 1795.
•As we know from Henshall’s patent, bottles of the period were stoppered with “cork, tow, hemp, sponge, paper wool and linen.”
•Another alumnus of Brasenose College, Oxford is credited with the first bottled beer in England. He was Alexander Nowell, Dean of St. Paul’s, and Principal of Brasenose 1595, died 1602, “ having either accidently, or by design .. left in the grass or buried in the ground, a bottle of ale, he found it again after some time “not a bottle but a gun such the
sound of it when opened.”
•Between 1795 and 1926 Ninety three corkscrew patents were granted. Including all the patent variations mentioned in the specifications there are a total of 173. Add to this the variants that have been found but not mentioned in the specifications and there are over 200 corkscrews.
•Of the 93 corkscrew patents it is noteworthy that just over half, 49 including the Henshall compound, have a mechanical advantage; whereas 24 are simple direct pull corkscrews with some modification. The rest all have some mechanical action but no mechanical advantage.
•Thirteen corkscrews only succeeded as far as a provisional patent, and of these only five are known to have been produced, viz. Joseph Roper (1865), Joseph Page (1868), Edwin Sunderland (1870), John Burgess (1875), Pitt and Norgrove (1881). Unusually, William Hait Plant’s Magic Patent was manufactured and marked Patent even though it had no
protection, as the patent was never sealed.
•Geographically, forty of the patents originated in London, twenty two from Birmingham and surprisingly only one, that of John Mabson, 1873, from Sheffield. At the time of his earlier patent he was living in Norwood, Surrey.
•Manufacturers were responsible for only twenty four corkscrew patents, thirteen were by engineers, the rest are from patentees with a variety of occupations including architect, innkeeper, coal merchant, hairdresser, surgeon, chemist, and painter and decorator.
•Although almost every patent has improvements, improved, or improving in the title of the specification, it is debateable as to whether many were improvements on their predecessors.
•Many, for a multitude of reasons, including expense of production, problems with manufacture and distribution, were abject commercial failures.
•Some corkscrews were re patented, shortly after the original, with a slight modification to correct a problem.
Baker patent1880/Heeley 1888
Maud patent 1894/Maud 1895
Viarengo Armani 1898/Viarengo 1904
Armstrong 1902/Armstrong 1902
•It is very difficult to estimate how many corkscrews of each patent were produced, although Edward Thomason estimated 130,000 in the fourteen years of the patent. There were a large number of manufacturers of this corkscrew after this date, and they were produced for about 100 years, a figure of 500,000 would not be out of place. certainly no examples of corkscrews associated with 38 patents are known to exist, although it is the opinion of this author that some of them will still be found.
• In 1805 William Congreve, a prolific inventor, whose inventions included a rocket, a rolling ball clock, and a printing process to reduce the possibility of counterfeiting, wrote to Matthew Boulton requesting his assistance in patenting a corkscrew.
• Patenting several completely different corkscrews at the same time in one specification was commercially advantageous. This was exploited by Lund and Hipkins in 1855, and later by Charles Hull, John Mabson, George Twigg and others.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A New Corkscrew Book

Corkscrews by Frank and Barbara Ellis

The novice collector, like the little boy in a sweet shop, is often spoilt for choice. He/she wants an example of almost every object that he is offered for his collection, and within a few years has assembled a collection without much focus or direction. After a while dissatisfaction sets in. These ones aren’t good enough, other ones he don’t like anymore, he wants to impose a dateline on the collection, these ones aren’t old enough, and so on and so on.

For the novice collector of corkscrews, help is at hand, as Frank and Barbara Ellis have done all the homework, and laid it out in such a way that the whole range of possibilities is revealed in clear and well illustrated chapters.

The book is arranged in twelve chapters describing corkscrews by type, for example levers, self pullers and partial pullers, mechanical corkscrews and combinations. The photographs are exceptionally clear, and all in colour. The captions are very detailed and informative. The book is strongest on English corkscrews, but there are enough continental Europe and American examples to whet the appetite. Not so good if you decide you want to collect precious metal corkscrews, however, there are some lovely nutmeg grater corkscrews and silver sheathed corkscrew shown.

There are now many books on corkscrews available to collectors; recently 41 authors received the Bernard Watney Medal, for significant contributions to collecting, awarded by Mavis Watney through the auspices of the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts. This book is a twenty first century book for twenty first century collectors. Part of the Crowood series for collectors now numbering twenty one, it is favourably priced at £25.

ISBN 978 1 84797 113 5

Monday, 7 September 2009

Observations on Corkscrew Patents and Patentees No.1

Extract from paper delivered at ICCA meeting August 2009

Why is it that no corkscrew patent exists before 1795?

Certainly, the double folding corkscrew with pipe tamper ends, the folding bow, the steel picnic corkscrew, and the various mechanical corkscrews which all predate the Soho corkscrew, would all have benefited from patent protection.
Many of these would have been sold as part of a gentleman’s travelling case, which would have contained all the necessities of daily life, razors, toiletries and so forth, or they would have been attached to steel chatelaines, and so not sold on their own.

Firstly, the patent process was prohibitively expensive, and once the patent had been sealed, fighting cases of infringement would have been then and remains, even to this day, an even more costly affair. For this reason, manufacturers would sometimes stamp the word “patent” on their product even though they had no authority to do it, and take a
chance that their competitors would not realise their fraud.

Secondly, it was also unavoidably complex, and at the time there were no patent agents available to navigate a simple course through the layers of bureaucracy generated by the various organisations, such as the Master in Chancery, the Secretary of State and the Office of the Lord of the Privy Seal.

Thirdly, the necessity of recouping the increased outgoing would require the end product to be more expensive than its competitors, unless it was going to be produced in sufficient quantities, to make the unit cost increase negligible. Considerations of size of market, distribution to other centres of demand, possibilities of exportation all have to
be examined.

Fourthly, the Patent Office was in London and would have required frequent journeys to complete the patent process.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Christies Auction Prices Thirty Years Ago

Old auction catalogues make very interesting reading. Here's a selection of prices from the Christies sale of 28 September 1989.

Lot 705 Rare Dutch Tinder Box cum Corkscrew (standard form but lacking damper) £1350
Lot 706 Murray and Stalker £1450
Lot 713 Thomason Compound Patent, open frame with four curved pillars £460
Lot 718 Nickel Four pillar King's Screw £240
Lot 724 London Rack with broken bottle grips £170
Lot 726 Lund Patent London Rack £115
Lot 727 Viarengo Patent of simple form £120
Lot 728 French L'Excelsior £170
Lot 729 Pink and White ladies legs corkscrew £200

All prices exclude commission of 10%+ VAT

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Patent Fact File1: The Henshall Corkscrew

Patent Date:24 August 1795
Patent No:2061
Length of Patent: Fourteen years
Patentee: Samuel Henshall, in Princes Street, in the Parish of Christchurch, in the County of Middlesex, Clerk.
Manufacturer:Matthew Boulton, Soho Manufactory, Birmingham
Distinguishing Marks: On the button "Obstando Promoves Soho Patent" translated from the Latin as " By standing firm one makes advancement."

Exists in three forms:
I Simple form with concave button; rare but at least forty examples known,
II Compound form with a frame and mechanical action; much rarer, only one example known.
III Compound form with socket, not known.

Samuel Henshall Celebration

On 24 August 2009, about forty members of the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts and the Canadian Corkscrew Collectors Club, met at the Church of St, Mary and Holy Trinity, Bow, in the east end of London, to unveil a plaque to the memory of Samuel Henshall, who obtained the World's first corkscrew patent on 24 August 1795.The wording on the plaque is as follows:
Beneath this Chancel is the final resting place of Samuel Henshall who obtained the World's first corkscrew patent 24th August 1795 Obstando Promoves This tablet was placed here by the international Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts 24th August 2009.
The Photograph shows Right Fred Kincaid, from the ICCA, Bert Giulian who gave a short talk on Henshall, the corkscrew and the man, Fletcher Wallis who unveiled the plaque and the Reverend Michael Peet, Rector of St. Mary and Holy Trinity who gave the introductory address and dedicated the plaque at the end of the ceremony.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Miss O'Rourke Where are you?

Although Samuel Henshall obtained the World's first corkscrew patent, 24 August 1795, it is widely believed amongst collectors that it was, in fact , invented by a certain Miss O'Rourke as mentioned in a work of 1829 by Robert Stuart, Historical and Descriptive Anecdotes of Steam Engines and of their Inventors and Improvers, London, Wightman And Co.

Miss O'Rourke, like her own exquisite poteen punch, was a delightful compound from ingredients, both mental and corporeal, of the most opposite nature. The friend of Kosciusko, and the authoress of the Rhapsody which afterwards rung so often throughout the country to the favourite tune (Gramachree) of the patriot Pole, such another hostess was not in England wide, and no other of her order ever conferred so great a benefit on bottlesuckers as she did, by her superlative invention of placing a button and the end of the screw-worm. Henceforth the decanting process was a mere matter of routine. When, in her green old age, Death laid his hand on the inventress, a piratical screwmaker also took to himself the credit and profit of the button addendum. Yet Miss O'Rourke shall never be forgotten, even though her master-piece, some few years later, was eclipsed and may yet be superseded by the King's Screw which can receive no addition either to its beauty or convenience, except it be probably some little steam appendage to make it self-acting. These are trifling additions to a simple instrument, yet they produced a great revolution in its use and value.

Searches through all the available literature have not revealed any other trace of the mysterious inventress, so now we throw it open to the world to let us know, who was Miss O'Rourke? Where did she live? How did Samuel Henshall get to know about the famous concave button? Did she give the idea to the Read family of cutlers from Dublin. Is her corkscrew invention the legendary Read's Coaxer? If you want to read more about the Henshall Controversy, You can buy an excellent book on the subject from Bert Giulian "Corkscrews of the Eighteenth Century, Artistry in Iron and Steel", Price 50$ + Postage