The Independent Archive: 23 September 1989 - Steel worms for all who love the juice

John Windsor reports on the bibulousness and high jinks of international corkscrew week
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IT IS international corkscrew week. Not that the honourable International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts would be coarse enough to publicise it, or even give it a name: the most eminent of the world's three corkscrew collecting societies has a waiting list of a dozen for the single vacancy in its limited membership of 50, and the threat of enforced expansion is on every Addict's mind.

Corking of wine bottles started in the mid-17th century and the first reference to a corkscrew - a "steel Worme" - has been traced to London in 1681. Members' collections of 1,000- 2,000 corkscrews are not uncommon. Specimens of the earliest patented corkscrew of 1795, invented by the Rev Samuel Henshall and manufactured by the great engineer Matthew Boulton, change hands for pounds 1,000-pounds 2,000. A gold corkscrew fetched a record pounds 4,730 at Sotheby's a year ago. But 18th- and 19th-century specimens, with finely turned wood handles and steel worms, can still be picked up for pounds 10-pounds 20.

More than 300 corkscrew patents have been issued in Britain. "King-screw" rack-and-pinion mechanisms developed after about 1800. William Maud's patent of 1894 has pins that rotate the cork - worth up to pounds 200.

For international corkscrew week, Christie's and Sotheby's are holding private views prior to corkscrew auctions for an estimated 35 international Addicts. The Victoria & Albert Museum has planned an Addicts' reception at its current corkscrew exhibition, where 150 examples are on show. The Reform Club and the Coram Foundation are receiving them, and Brighton Pavilion is lending its banqueting room. There will be dinners in members' homes. It will be a time for bibulous but elegant high jinks.

Corkscrews may be humble implements, but their collectors are a cut or two above the bicycle-clip brigade. The ICCA was founded in 1974 by Dr Bernard Watney, author of Corkscrews for Collectors - the collectors' "bible". The corkscrew group's endearing combination of sound scholarship and quaint customs would disgrace neither an Oxbridge dining club nor an arcane ancient order. Members - half Americans, and the rest mainly Europeans - include physicians, estate agents, lawyers, accountants, company directors, engineers and a retired hospital porter turned game-beater to the nobility.

There is no president. Instead, there is a Right. It was the American senator Henry Clay who in 1850, you will recall, said: "Sir, I would rather be right than be President."

Tomorrow night at the Addicts' annual dinner, the current Right, Richard Dennis, a Kensington antique dealer, will offer the toasts inscribed on a specially commissioned ceramic punchbowl, inspired by those of 18th- century dining clubs: "The bottlescrew, whose worth, whose use, all men confess that love the juice" (anon English poem, 1732) and In spira spero (anon, 1974).

By tradition, no Addict is allowed to leave the table until the bowl is empty. Six litres may not sound a lot: the catch is that the Master of the Punch is allowed to fill the bowl with his own recipe as many times as he likes.

For the over-indulged, the Addicts' chaplain will be at hand. Brother Timothy Diener, a founder member, is a retired cellar-master of the Christian Brothers of Napa Valley, California. His florid pre-dinner graces giving thanks for God's gift of the grape and yeast are designed to test the patience of the most recalcitrant taste-buds. His pastoral obligations are made more poignant by the fact that he is the donor of the wine for the Christie's and Sotheby's receptions.

The finale is a dinner at the Right's house in Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset, and a return coach trip via Stonehenge. The last time this was attempted, according to ICCA records, few Addicts clapped eyes on the stones, being by that time "in a soporific trance".

The entire junket, including forays to antique markets and an AGM at the Reform Club, costs a mere pounds 120, not counting hotel accommodation. No wonder supplicants are keenly vetted.

From the Weekend section of 'The Independent', Saturday 23 September 1989