Image: Patent Presto Corkscrew, Manufactured by Charles Hull, Birmingham c. 1865
The old & tiresome process of drawing Corks by the ordinary Corkscrew is entirely obviated in the Construction and novel action of the “Presto Corkscrew”. Its superiority will at once be seen and its use understood by the following instructions, viz: Pull the screw A out to its full extent, & then insert the point of the worm into the Centre of the Cork, & by a slight pressure (without turning the hand) it will immediately penetrate the Cork, this being effected, then proceed to draw it. To remove the Cork from the worm raise the Button B and slightly pull the Cork, which will instantly be released.
Birmingham became the centre of corkscrew manufacturing after a London clergyman, the Rev Samuel Henshall was granted a patent in 1795. It held the corkscrew to the cork once the screw had been turned into it. Further pressure released the cork from its seal and made extraction easier. Matthew Boulton was the first to make Henshall’s product and other entrepreneurs followed. Between 1795 and 1908, nearly 350 British patents were awarded for corkscrew design. One was Edward Thomason whose patent of 1802 used a double screw to improve extraction.
Birmingham dominated the world market in corkscrew manufacturing in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The presence of enterprising engineering businesses and skilled workers and the availability of raw materials enabled the town to maintain its importance. Not all patentees lived in Birmingham, but their inventions were manufactured there.
By the mid-19th century Birmingham manufacturers were adapting these innovations into a variety of types, shapes and sizes. Dix’s Directory of Birmingham in 1858 lists sixteen businesses. One firm was Charles Hull, Manufacturer of Corkscrews, 101 Henry Street, Birmingham. The catalogue of the business, dating from about 1865 is reproduced in this exhibition. Charles Hull not only made an extraordinary number of corkscrews, but also other small metal objects using the lever principle, such as nut crackers, candle snuffers and button hooks.
Wine labels were widely used until a law passed in 1860 which decreed that wine merchants would have to paper-label their bottles prior to sale. After then the labels were only used on decanters.
Image: Two Corkscrews Manufactured by Charles Hull, Birmingham c. 1865
Patent Power Corkscrew
The Simplest Out!
Well adapted for Ladies Use
Directions for Use
Place the Corkscrew on the Bottle as above; after starting the Screw into the Cork, keep on turning till the Cork is drawn.
This is an example of the corkscrew first developed by one of Birmingham’s most prolific inventors and designers, Edward Thomason (1769-1849). Thomason’s corkscrew of the early 1800s included both left-handed and right-handed threads. On turning the crossbar the cork penetrated the corkscrew and by continuing to turn, the cork was removed from the bottle.
Hull’s Improved Syphon Tap
By screwing the worm into the cork, Champagne, Soda Water, Lemonade &c may be drawn off at pleasure, and what remains in the bottle will not lose its effervescing property.
Directions for Use
The wire must not be unloosed. Screw the worm through the centre of the cork till the point is well under. Hold the bottom of the bottle upwards, turn the Tap, and draw the quantity required.
The idea of a corkscrew is simple, but the instrument was progressively redesigned and modified from the 17th until the 20th century. Though the Romans used cork to seal containers of wine, the modern use of the corked bottle is attributed to Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-65). He invented the wine bottle with a narrow neck in about 1630. These first bottles had waxed linen wrappings attached to the cork, which provided a means of extraction prior to drinking. The necks of wine bottles were made longer and more parallel in the 17th and 18th century. This allowed bottles to be stored horizontally and required corks to fit more tightly. Corks had to be compressed and therefore more difficult to extract. The ancestor of the corkscrew, the bottle screw was devised. It developed from the screw on the ramrod, which was used to clean the barrel of a gun. Surviving examples date from the late 17th century, many of which were made by lorimers who also manufactured horse bits and spurs.
Most corkscrews followed a basic pattern with a simple screw, also known as a worm or helix and a cross bar or ring which the user turned when the screw was introduced into the cork. Corkscrews were not easy to use. They had to be inserted at the right angle and care had to be taken in creating the helix or worm. A poorly designed or inserted corkscrew would break or damage the cork.
During the 18th and 19th centuries designs became more complex. There were several variations on the simple helix to increase pulling power. A flute was cut into the screw to provide greater strength and rigidity. The Archimedean helix was similar in design to that of a woodscrew and was used to extract corks from champagne bottles. In a third variation increased pulling the groove between the threads was hollowed out of the central core. Inventors produced different methods for extracting corks and siphoning liquids from a bottle without removing the cork. Designers used different metals, wood or bone for handles, which could be electro-plated, japanned, carved or engraved.
Image: Improved Patent Power Corkscrew No 204, Manufactured by Charles Hull, Birmingham c. 1865
The simplest out and well adapted for Ladies’ Use.
Directions for Use.
Place the Corkscrew on the Bottle in the usual way: after starting the Screw into the Cork, keep on turning till the Cork is drawn.
Text: Malcolm Dick
Images: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library, UK
The corkscrew originated in the 17th century, but it was refined into a piece of elegant engineering in 19th century Birmingham. The images in the exhibition are taken from Charles Hull’s Catalogue dating from about 1865. They show the variety and complexity of corkscrew design by the mid-19th century. Most of the designs based on patents by Samuel Henshall and Edward Thomason were already in production by the early 19th century. Other significant inventors included Thomas and William Lund who developed their patents in the mid-19th century. By the 19th century, Birmingham was the most important centre of corkscrew manufacture in the world.