Corkscrews are one of the more ubiquitous kitchen gadgets, and have been around for centuries. Historians believe the idea of the corkscrew came directly from the gun worm, a twisted spiral metal device that was used to extract lead balls trapped in musket barrels in the early 17th century.
Before wine was ever corked, all kinds of substances were stored in corked containers—from medicine to perfumes, food, and even beer. Once glassblowing techniques improved in the early 18th century, allowing airtight storage of wine and safe aging, an easy way to remove the corks became necessary. The English, already familiar with musket ball extraction, and deeply steeped by then in their own traditions of alcohol-fueled merrymaking, made the logical leap to cork extraction with a similar device. They were initially developed and produced by arms manufacturers as “bottle screws.”
Though they had been around long before, it wasn’t until 1795 that the first patent for a corkscrew was granted to Reverend Samuel Henshall, a clergyman in England. He added to the “T” design a simple disk that forces the cork to break away from the bottle and turn with the crosspiece—now known as the Henshall Button—while also preventing the worm from winding too deeply and breaking the cork into bits.
The amount of human effort that has since gone into the countless ingenius variations on the simple corkscrew would be difficult to calculate. Cork extraction has been elevated to a science, with an immense amount of patents granted over the years for designs that range from common models familiar to everyone to complicated and showy Rube Goldberg-esque versions. Collectors have been known to pay as much as US$13,500 at a Christie’s auction for a single antique corkscrew from the early 19th century.
Our PatentWear Corkscrew-Strait design features the 1883 patent granted to Thomas M. Strait for his self-puller with a conical bell. The invention is for a corkscrew provided with a cutter to sever the wire or cord and sealing wax “generally used in securing the corks of bottles.” Another advantage is its ability to extract a cork from a much smaller bottle. These corkscrews can be found for sale by collectors online, valued at over US$500 and up to $800 if the patent stamp is visible. There is indeed a whole world of corkscrew experts and collectors out there. You might want to take a good look at what’s in grandma’s utensil drawer just in case!