In the true spirit of the clergy, it was a devotee of the cloth who, by patenting the corkscrew, brought man closer to drink. The first English patent was issued to a clergyman named Samuel Henshall in 1795. He simply added a disc to the end of the worm (the curly bit that goes into the cork) to compress the cork and improve the screw's pulling power. It was sold at an auction last April, along with a 1905 German model whose handles, between which the screw was attached, formed the legs of a semi-naked lady.
Both items came from the personal collection of an Italian, Gianni Giachin, who lived in London until his death last year and had one of the world's biggest corkscrew collections. The public were obviously delighted by them, paying between pounds 100 and pounds 2,000 per lot.
For David Howse, a Threshers' wine taster, the way the bottle is opened affects the taste of the wine. "The corkscrews which require less effort are better," he says, "because they cause the least agitation to the liquid inside. I think the Screwpull is the best, if a little expensive: we sell models for up to pounds 80. On the whole, those devices with a nail-like worm are the worst because they break easily and require a lot more effort."
The Independent had the onerous task of opening innumerable bottles, so we could advise our readers which corkscrew to buy this Christmas.
Anna Green corkscrew, pounds 32.95
A must for socialite Dr Who fans. This monster contraption bears more than a passing resemblance to a Time Lord-chasing cyberman, dressed in a turquoise-coloured party dress. The design is very Freudian: when you push down its arms, the cork pops out from under the girl's dress. Hideous the contraption and hideous the price.
Waiter's Friend, pounds 4.95 This is the equivalent of a penknife with the more exciting arms removed. It's small and light, which makes it amiably portable, but also easy to misplace. If you don't want to appear pretentious, the Harrods label can be scratched off without too much difficulty. Less than a fiver, it's probably the cheapest thing in the whole store. (Harrods, Knightsbridge: 0171 730 1234)
Screwpull, by Le Creuset, pounds 16.80 This corkscrew would have made Dr Rubik proud; those with aching brains this Christmas should steer well clear. However, according to corkscrew connoisseurs, owning this device is the zenith to which the wine-drinking public should aspire. It is based (says the office intellectual) on the Crick and Watson double helix principle, and its Teflon coating means that little effort is required: just place the lip of the device against the bottle and start turning. Available from Divertimenti Mail Order (0171 386 9911).
Antlers, pounds 17.95 Elegantly sculpted to fit Frank Bruno's knuckles, this one is based on the original tried and tested design. Don't bother to buy it - in fact, if you do have pounds 17.95 to throw away, why not spend it on international phone calls in an attempt to track down a plastic model of Buzz Lightyear from Disney's Toy Story?
Autopull, pounds 9.95 "The ethos of the Nineties is convenient but dull." In keeping with this, the Autopull is about as boring as a corkscrew can get. It is made of dull black or white plastic, is based on the principal of the screwpull, and it works! Its only mentionable feature is its bland appearance: it would clash horribly at the dinner table with the antique candlesticks and Waterford crystal.
The Lazy Fish, pounds 19.95 There is a wide range of possible uses for the Lazy Fish but a corkscrew is not the first that springs to mind. It could be more gainfully used as a novelty door stopper. It strongly resembles a pair of pliers with the end missing. One look at it, and it'll be quite clear why this will undoubtedly be the most popular corkscrew this Christmas. Its bright, shiny surface lures the most vulnerable of relatives (still with no idea of what to buy for Christmas) - and its elastic design will keep the recipient amused for many minutes. The fishbone concertina structure drastically reduces the effort needed to extract a cork from a bottle - but unfortunately it rather impedes the progress of the screw into the cork in the first place.
La Poigne Wood Corkscrew, pounds 29.95 La probleme ici, c'est que les instructions sont en francais. Alors, according to the back of the packet this is an "objet precieux"; that is, you have to pay a lot of money for a chunk of wood which you can screw to the wall to hold the corkscrew.
Jerry's Home Store (0171 581 0909); the Conran Shop (0171 589 7401)