Strange but true - in an auction at Christies several years ago the astonishing sum of £6000 was realised for what most of us would consider a humble domestic item. However this particular corkscrew was of special interest to the Shrapnel family as it was the unique invention of HENRY NEEDHAM SCROPE SHRAPNEL (1812-1896), son of General Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842). Henry Shrapnel, junior, patented his designs in 1839 from an address in Gosport, Hampshire


There were four versions of his invention at least two of which have sold for the combined sum of £9050 in a period of two years. The frame of the principal version is leather lined at the lower end to fit over the bottleneck.  The handle is a hinged transverse bar and knob which is opened out when withdrawing the cork to allow the shaft to screw up through the uncovered threaded half of the handle. Another part of the patent describes the use of spikes fixed to a mobile base plate or button that penetrates the cork. This causes the cork to move and loosen to facilitate extraction. Another version has a strange looking brush on the end of the handle, something of a cross between a pastry and shaving brush.


It seems that far from being a quiet and little known area of collecting, as one might expect, corkscrews command a fiercely competitive market. There are of course many common varieties, but it is the unique versions, such as those of Henry's inventions, which dominate the market.


We know little about any attempt at marketing that Henry may have made or whether his corkscrews were produced commercially in any great number. Henry emigrated to Canada with his wife and most of his 16 children where he ended his days. His line in Canada has now died out except possibly several generations down on the female side. Any chance of tracing handed down corkscrews is now probably quite remote.