Sotheby's in New York has re-released its coffee-table book, "Collectible Corkscrews." The edition, however, mentions no Orange County collectors, and inquiries among some of the county's most knowledgeable wine aficionados also failed to turn up a single local collector.
While some may nevertheless exist, we had to take a hop over the county line to find an expert.
"Some collectors get involved because of wine," said Pasadena's Michael Sharp, who is fascinated by the devices. "I'm not a big wine drinker. I like mechanical things. Corkscrews with cranks interest me. I also favor ones with a documented history, where you know the manufacturer or patent, the dream and the scheme.
"Man's ingenuity when it comes to making a better mousetrap can't be better illustrated than with corkscrews. We have the small task in front of us of extracting a cork from a bottle, yet there are . . . thousands of variations of going about that."
Sharp is intimately familiar with several thousand variations.
"I personally own 3,500," he said, "and I don't have the definitive collection."
Invented in the late 17th Century, corkscrews use levers, screws and gears to accomplish their task. They often come in combination with implements such as a knife or screwdriver. Collectors often make decisions on the basis of distinctive shape, material or decorations.
Brother Timothy Diener's collection of corkscrews, long associated with the Christian Brothers winery in the Napa Valley, remains the most famous. In an article he wrote on the field, he tells of finding a one-of-a-kind corkscrew with a handle of wart hog tusk, its end tipped with a silver cigar cutter, in a California shop--for $10.
"We do get lucky now and then," said Donald Bull of the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts. "I bought a corkscrew for $4 at a consignment shop that recently sold for $2,000."
Resale can go even higher, according to Sharp: "It wouldn't surprise me to see a corkscrew selling for $3,000 to $5,000. I've not paid that, but I've seen it offered."
Bull is the current "Right" of the ICCA; there is no president, the group's slogan being, "We'd rather be right than president." Diener was the ICCA's first Right; when he left office, he became Just Right.
ICCA membership is limited to 50, and the organization requires photographs of applicants' best six corkscrews, information about the collection and biographical data for consideration.
Despite its name, the Canadian Corkscrew Collectors Club boasts a worldwide membership, mostly from the United States, and interest in the field is sufficient to qualify applicants.
"The very first thing a corkscrew aficionado should do is join the CCCC," Bull recommended, "then hope to get in the ICCA when one of us dies or resigns."
Sharp's oldest corkscrew dates from 1780, and is part of a set manufactured in England that comes with a little funnel and spoon. He nevertheless considers his own "best six" to be of more recent vintage and greater proximity, manufactured in California in the late 1800s.
"Will & Fink were famous for manufacturing card-cheating devices and knives after the Gold Rush," he said. "The corkscrews look fairly plain, but they survived. I turned up the sixth one recently at a flea market. It was dirty and rusty. I paid little or nothing for it. I cleaned it up and it said 'Will & Fink.' "
Though flea markets, swap meets and antique shows are excellent sources, corkscrews don't have to be old to be a valuable collectible.
"I buy new ones, too," Sharp said. "If I don't have it, I want it. Even the new ones I have, most are no longer being produced. So the one that I buy today, that won't be on the market a year from now, is for sure going to be interesting to someone 50 years from now."
\o7 To apply for membership in the CCCC, write Membership Chairman Milt Becker, P.O. Box 9863, Englewood, N.J., 07631; annual dues of $30 entitles members to receive "The Quarterly Worm." For membership in the ICCA, write to The Right, ICCA, 20 Fairway Drive, Stamford, Conn., 06903.