Serious antique collectors are a hardy, persevering lot, often going to great lengths—and digging deep into savings accounts—when hunting for an acknowledged holy grail. Folks who collect antique wine accessories can be equally passionate, and spendthrift, in their pursuits. In 2008, for instance, in an online auction staged by the ICAA (the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts), a corkscrew—a rare agate variety with detailed god cage work—fetched $21,000. The seller was “corkmaster” Donald Bull, a corkscrew connoisseur who recounts his many trips around the world—all in search of the next best ‘screw—on his website, the Virtual Corkscrew Museum.
In addition to corkscrews, lovers of antique wine accessories concentrate on advertising-themed items, products made from bones or animal tusks, or souvenirs from a particular country, state or town. Often, like so many treasured antiques, there is a story and personal connection that makes the piece valuable. The grandparents of Kezia Jauron, a consultant in Sherman Oaks, California, owned a winery in Cucamonga in the 1940s and 50s, and she and several relatives still have some of the tools. “We have the wooden taps and stencils that my grandpa used to label the big barrels,” she says. “And my mother has a couple of bottles of wine from Prohibition labeled Grape Soda.”
But while champagne cutters, corks, coasters, labels, decanters, coolers, glasses, early bottles, stoppers and pourers are popular collectibles, corkscrews are often the cornerstone of an antique wine accessory collection. For winemaker Greg Martin of Martin Estates in Rutherford, California, they are the sole focus. The Rutherford-based vintner, whose interest for antiques was sparked in childhood when he started collecting old-fashioned weapons and firearems, has an eclectic array of corkscrews from the mid-19th century, in keeping with the era of the 1870s building that houses his winery. The handles range from a walrus tusk, an old-growth root and a wild boar tusk.
For helixophiles (the hobbyist name for corkscrew lovers), the Napa campus of the Culinary Institute of America serves as ground zero: the main hall displays more than 1000 corkscrews (some displayed to the left) from the collection of the late legendary winemaker, Brother Timothy. But there are also numerous books, clubs, even conventions, devoted to the hobby, with a great starting point being the website CorkscrewNet. Though there’s plenty of information for novices the editor’s homepage proclamation appeals to the most intrepid accumulators: “Remember: Corkscrew collecting is not a life and death matter–it’s more than that!”