From the Inside Out

From the Inside Out:

The Cork Extractors of John W. Milam and John Sheridan

Originally published in The Bottle Scrue Times – 2019

As many of you know, I love to research the corkscrews and cork extractors that we each covet.  And, as mentioned in the past, the continuing digitization of old periodicals and documents has netted out a plethora of information to dig through…albeit virtually.

This ongoing hunt can often turn up with very little, as not all past periodicals are readily available.  There can be other times when a search for “cork extractor” for example, can garner an old illustration with a description of a yet-to-have-been-found patent.

Better said, we may have known about the patent itself, thanks to Fred O’Leary and the inclusion of all the patent drawings that appear in the back his book on American patented corkscrews—affectionately referred to as the “Back of O’Leary or BOO—but a real-life example has yet to have been discovered within our respective collections.

Still, when you find an article about a patented cork extractor, or when you find an advertisement for a patented cork extractor, you would have to imagine that it would have been produced at some point.  We just need to find it!

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 This cut represents the most novel invention of the age—THE KENTUCKY CORK EXTRACTOR.  The simplicity of its construction and practicability of its use recommends it to the public.  Instead of TWISTING AND SCREWING, you merely push the points into a cork, and by the natural position and action of the hand in drawing it out, the points and their barbed edges engage the cork, and he same is EASILY DRAWN.  Close the separating handles, and the grip is loosened and the cork relieved.  A glance at the cut will satisfy one of its many advantages.

Several years ago, I ran into such an advertisement for “The Kentucky Cork Extractor,” appearing in an 1891 issue of The American Angler; a magazine about fishing.   The same ad also appears in a periodical entitled Nature.

There were several questions that occurred to me in finding the advertisement.   One, does this appear in the back of Fred’s book.  Two, why is this appearing in a magazine about fishing?  And, finally as a cork extractor, would this work?

As is often my practice, I turned to the back of O’Leary and started examining the patent drawings.

What I found, were two patents that function similarly.  Each utilize serrated or barbed edges to grab the cork.  Each was intended to be inserted into the middle of the cork, and once engaged, the serrated teeth grab the cork from the inside.  Having bitten into the cork, the cork would be withdrawn out of the bottle.  These are the Milam patent of 1888 and the Sheridan patent of 1917.

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I will add here, that the only cork extractor that operates in a similar fashion that is shown in the World Class Corkscrews book, is the rare N.P. Samuelson cork extractor; patented in Demark in 1903, Sweden in 1904, Norway in 1904, Germany in 1904, England in 1904, and Austria in 1905.

That said, in examining the patent drawings—now using Google Patents to look at them in a larger format—neither really matched up exactly with the Kentucky Cork Extractor, although the Milam of patent 1888 comes close.

On October 9, 1888, John Milam was awarded patent number 390,691 for a Cork Extractor.

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As described in his patent, “This invention relates to a device for extracting corks from the necks of bottles: it consists of pivoted levers having piercing prongs or fingers adapted when lying side by side, to be driven into the cork, where they may be separated and forced into engagement therewith, after which they, with the cork, may be withdrawn.”

One should also note from his patent drawings and description that his intention was to create three versions: the standard version as shown in Figure 1, a bar mount version, and a pocket version.

milampat2“In Fig. 4 I have shown my invention combined with an operating-lever and stand in a manner useful in constant or frequent use, as in bar-rooms.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

milampat3“In Fig. 5 I have shown a convenient form of the invention for carrying in the pocket.  In such form the handles are provided with finger-loops K, while one or both of them are jointed, at k, to permit them to be folded down by the side of the prongs to lessen the danger of cutting or piercing the person so carrying the implement.”

 

 

 

In 1917, John A. Sheridan, was awarded patent number 1,240,610 for an Improved Cork Puller.

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The Sheridan patent has certain similarities to the Milam, with the use of serrated edges on the blades being inserted into the cork.  His patent explains his intentions;

“First, to provide an improved cork puller;

Second to provide an improved cork puller arranged to engage the cork throughout the entire length thereof;

Third, to provide an improved device of the character described that will tend to draw the sides of the cork away from the sides of the orifice when the device is pulled away from the orifice;

Fourth, to provide an improved cork puller having blades with serrated edges arranged to engage a cork while inserting the device into the cork; and

Fifth, to provide an improved device of the character described having means arranged to preserve the alignment of the blades while being inserted.”

And, the following article appears in a 1918 issue of Popular Science Monthly:

One Quick Pressure and the Cork Is Out

The corkscrew has at last found a rival in the cork-puller, invented by John Sheridan, of San Francisco.  Two thin scissor-like blades, having upwardly inclined serrations, are thus into the cork body.  When you close the blade handles, the serrated members open in wedge shape, and the cork can be pulled instantly.  The inclined teeth draw the sides of the cork inward, making it smaller than the bottle mouth, so that it is easily drawn out.  The puller can easily be withdrawn by again separating the handles.  It leaves only a small hole.

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The blades are thrust into the cork, the handles pressed together

and the cork extracted.

 

As previously mentioned, neither patent drawing was an exact match to the Kentucky Cork Extractor as pictured in the advertisement in The American Angler magazine.  The pocket version of the Milam bears the most similarities, but it clearly wasn’t the Sheridan.

So, at the time, I was unable to answer the three questions mentioned earlier. Does this appear in the back of O’Leary?  Why was it in a Fishing Magazine?  And, would this work?  Still, I filed away the advertisement of The Kentucky Cork Extractor into a research file on my desktop, and also into my something-to-look-for-internal-rolodex.

Three years after finding the advertisement, I found some answers.

As it happened, I ran across a familiar looking tool, with the most interesting description from the person selling it, on a non-eBay website; described as “J.W. Milam, Frankfort, Kentucky, Fishing Tool Corkscrew.”

In their description of the item, the seller explained how they came to believe it was some sort of corkscrew, explaining, “I don’t know if this is a corkscrew or not, but I found it amongst a box of other vintage corkscrews.”

As I glanced at the image, I knew it looked familiar, but it had been a few years since I had run across the advertisement.  Still, I promptly paid their asking price.

After securing the deal, I returned to the back of O’Leary.  Yes, the 1888 patent was J.W. milammarksMilam.  And, while the Kentucky Cork Extractor as shown in the advertisement, does not exactly look like the patent drawing, it does come close to a combination of Figure 1 and Figure 4 in his patent drawings.  Further, it is marked “J.W. Milam, Frankfort, Kentucky,” and “PATAPPLIEDFOR.”  And, it is spot on in comparing it with the advertisement.

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Answer to question one: Yes, it does exist within O’Leary, but in a slightly different form.

milamreelAs far as the appearance in a fishing magazine question.  J.W. Milam, was the son of B.C. Milam, who made fine fishing reels.  B.C. Milam & Son (that son being J.W.) fishing reels were the reel of choice of three American Presidents, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt, and were awarded four international first prizes and medals at the Chicago World’s Fair, Fisheries Exposition in Bergen, Norway, at the World’s Exposition in Paris, France and at the St. Louis Exposition in Saint Louis.   Today, a B.C. Milam & Son fishing reel can fetch from the hundreds of dollars well into the thousands to fishing reel collectors

Given that the Milam brand was already a presence in fishing magazines of the time like The American Angler and Nature, it makes sense that the Kentucky Cork Extractor would be advertised in these publications.

Answer to question two:  The manufacturers of the Kentucky Cork Extractor produced fishing reels as their primary business.

Finally, does it work?

The short answer, would be yes.   When you insert prongs of the Milam into a cork, and then pull on the handles, the serrated prongs do bite into the cork.  So, with a little extra pulling effort a cork would be able to be extracted.

While I have yet to actually pull a cork with it, perhaps if I find an older 375 ml of Sauterne with a softer cork, I might give it a go.

This would be a “new” discovery from the back of O’Leary, and a wonderful addition to the collection.  Now, we just need to find the Sheridan patent!

 

 

Do you have a similar cork extractor?  Drop me a line at josef@vintagecorkscrews.com

 

Clever Combination Cork Screw and Cork Extractor

From a 1919 issue of Electrical Examiner:

Combination Cork Screw and Cork Extractor.

ark

(316) Dan Lingo, Huntington Ark., submits an idea of a combination cork screw and cork extractor, and our illustration shows the idea which consists of a handle, cork screw on one end and beaded wire ends with the ring, at the other side. The modus operandi is shown in Fig. No 2. With a device of this kind as is well-known the cork can be extracted very readily once it is pushed inside the bottle.

A. The idea is a good one, and while there is of course nothing new as far as the two utensils are concerned, the combination of the two into one is undoubtedly a good feature. To our mind, if the wires could be pushed inside the handle, out of the way, it would be an added feature of merit. We believe a patent can be obtained on a device of this kind

Three Bows

About a week ago, or so, whilst working the deal for the Sperry, I also managed to swing a deal for three folding bow corkscrews.

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The three are indeed interesting, although two are doubles.    The doubles are both Williamson, with one being marked with the 1883 patent date, and the other that is referred to as the apple bow.

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The third, I find most interesting, as the metal piece that serves as the hinge as a hard snap to it.

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It is shown in a Simmons Hardware Company catalog from the 1890’s, along with a few others…

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Of course, if anyone needs the Williamson bow with patent date or the Williamson apple bow, I am always up for a trade…

And, along came Murphy…

There were a couple of arrivals on Monday, and I am quite pleased with the additions.

The Sperry is quite handsome, with a full helix, and marked with the 1878 patent date.

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And, as much as I have wanted to add a Sperry patent to the collection, a fantastic R. MURPHY BOSTON corkscrew also arrived yesterday; this version with a blade and a brush.

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While I have no doubt that the Sperry will make the best 6 of the year, the Murphy will also be in the running, as it is the first example I have with a brush and blade.

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Years ago, when we put together the Murphy display for the Boston CCCC meeting, there were Murphys with brushes and Murphys with blades, but not both.

A couple of nice additions to the collection!

Alfred W. Sperry patent

On May 28, 1878, Alfred W. Sperry was awarded patent number 204,389 for his Improvement in Corkscrewssp

Within his patent description he explains:

“This invention related to an improvement in the class of corkscrews in which the screw is hinged to the shorter arm of a lever, and in which the fulcrum of the lever is so constructed to set upon the neck of the bottle, so that when the corkscrew has been inserted the turning of th lever on the fulcrum will turn the corkscrew with it draw the cork.”

Also, interesting to note, is that Sperry thought to provide replacement worms, explaining:

“The object of this invention is to construct the instrument so that several screws may be supplied with the instrument, or [sic] any person unskilled may remove the screw or introduce a different one…”

Anyone ever find an extra Sperry screw?

That said, for years the Sperry has been on my wishlist, and I have always expected to find one (not that I really believed that I would) while on the hunt at Brimfield.

But, after years of hunting, looking, searching, and seeking to trade for one, the other day a deal was done, and a Sperry is finally heading to the island.

 

 

 

 

This should make the best 6 of the year, and I will post more photos upon its arrival!

And, now with the Sperry crossed off the wish list, time to rewrite the list!

Mystery Slider / Slide-out Corkscrew

The other day, I was sent photos of a small collection of corkscrews that were available, and within the lot was a corkscrew that I have yet been able to identify–other than it is a corkscrew…

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In e-conversations with the collector, he explained that there are no markings on the corkscrew in question…

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Using photoshop and zooming in, there looks to be a 1929 Hiering patent resting under the Williamson Flash, and a 1909 Rydquist to the left of the mystery opener with sliding corkscrew.

In many ways it looks similar to an M-73, but clearly isn’t an M-73.

But, what is it?  It doesn’t appear in Ferd and Bert’s book on pocket corkscrews, and it doesn’t seem to appear in the WCC book…

whatisthis

It looks somewhat familiar…but…

What do you all think?  Have you seen this corkscrew before, and do you know its origins?

UPDATE!!!

After emailing a picture of the corkscrew to Barry Taylor, he suggested that it might be a version of the Becker patent… Not exact, but there certainly are similarities.

becker

Perhaps an American version of the Becker…

I will provide more information when it arrives!

 

Brimfield Day 3, back home, and back at it…

On the morning of Day 3 at Brimfield, the skies were blue, the temps a tad bit warmer, and the crowds and dealers plentiful.

The lovely headed off for home, and to run a few errands, while I headed to May’s field for a final day of corkscrewing around.

And, it was quite the crowd lined up for the 9:00 start.

No signs of the usual suspects, and I somehow got pushed towards the front of the line and was in the gates in short order.

Making my way through the field, I darted from booth to booth asking the usual question, and hearing the usual answer:

“Do you have any antique corkscrews?”

“What?”

“Corkscrews…”

“What”

“CORKSCREWS”

“No…”

Eventually, I did find a couple worthy of purchase, and would again be on my way.

At one booth, I found an interesting figural cat.  This would be the best purchase of the day for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it was a corkscrew.

Secondly, the dealer explained that he had 80+ others at his house, and we exchanged contact information for a future visit.

Back to the cat.  It is interesting, insofar as, it is a three dimensional figural with a tail that wraps around him and would make it difficult (or at least uncomfortable, in one’s hand) to use.

Still, a cool thing.

As I made my way through the field for a second pass, and checking the time, I realized it was time that I headed back to the all-terrain-corkscrew-pursuit-vehicle, and soon enough was heading for Rockland.

A fun, albeit wet and muddy, few days in Brimfield.

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rare egg beater, purchased for a collector friend

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Looks remarkably like that dolphin bottle opener that turns up…

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!

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Another Syroco look-a-like brush holder

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Love these

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Really?  We love our dog, but really?

Also, whilst I was traipsing through May’s field, I had received an email from someone that has a collection in Connecticut, and while I will get to visit said collector in the fall, a price was agreed upon for four corkscrews, and said corkscrews are already enroute to Vinalhaven.

A nice grouping, three American pieces and one Norwegian cork puller;  apropos given our upcoming trip to Norway.

foursome

Tucker, Joop, Austin, and Jopson: The Jopson will be heading to BT, but the others will remain on Vinalhaven.

Brimfield Day 1 and 2

The lovely bride and I made our way to the airbnb we rented for the May Brimfield Show.

On the drive down, I did manage to do a little antiquing, and at one particular shop (where there are almost never corkscrews) a dealer had apparently discovered a small collection, and corkscrews could be found amongst a myriad of bottle openers they must have dominated the collection.

And, the dealer had decided he had three ranges of openers and corkscrews: the 7 dollar range, the 9 dollar range, the 15 dollar range, and the 19 dollar range.

The best of the 19 dollar range, was the purchase of the day; a hard to find  German piece that made for an excellent pre-Brimfield find!

With the little folder marked D.R.G.M No 54268 on one side and GERMANY (Edmund Jansen, circa 1896) in hand, the adventure continued.  And, the drive south and then west continued.

In the weeks before our adventure, we had kept an eye on the forecast, and were prepared for the rain that had begun to fall.  Still, the next few days that the show would be open, there was no rain in the forecast.   Getting the rainfall early, surely would make for a lovely Brimfield opening day…

The morning of day one, at the appointed time (in the wee hours of the morning), I made a couple of cups of coffee, and threw on a few extra layers, as while it wasn’t going to be raining,  it was 38 degrees!  A little cold for May.

Pulling into the parking lot, and seeing the ruts that the other cars were leaving in the field portended the future.  It was going to be a sloppy mess at Brimfield, and for the next few hours, besides hunting for corkscrews, much of the time was spent trying not to lose a shoe in the inches of mud.


The crowds were still there, but the dealers weren’t.  At Dealer’s Choice, it was a smattering of dealers, with many tables left resting on their side.  And, at Brimfield North, the field management ended up letting attendees in for free, as they too had a fraction of the normal number of dealers, and some of those being towed out, after finding themselves stuck in the mud…quite literally.

Still, there were a few corkscrews about.  But, given the lack of dealers, the plentifulness was less than plentiful.  And, running into Barry, who was also on the hunt, he too mentioned the lack of corkscrews in the fields.

So, there were no legendary finds on day one.  But, by the end of the day one, I had amassed a small pile…

In one booth, I noticed a small pile of bung corks.  Fairly large, I thought they would make nice corkscrew stands.  After a bit of negotiation, or more accurately put, surprise on the dealer’s part that I would be so willing to buy all of them, a deal was struck and 30 of these were soon in my backpack.  As we were stowing them away, the dealer reached over and handed me another bag of them.

About 2 inches in diameter at the base and tapered at the top, I plan to add metal washers to the base, so the stand won’t tip over, and it will add some height differentiation to the corkscrews in the case.

For day 2, rain was, again, not in the forecast, but we expected to be sloshing around a bit, and we dressed accordingly.  Again, it was cold, and most buyers were wearing multiple players, gloves, hats, big jackets, scarves.

When the 9:00 field opened, the sun was trying to peak through the cloud cover, and by early afternoon, while not warm, with the sun breaking through, we all seemed to sigh in collective relief and warmth.

And, while it seemed many the dealers from the two all but abandoned fields decided to descend on Heart of the Mart and Hertan’s, corkscrews worthy of purchase were few and far between.  I did pick up a couple of folding spoons with advertising, and another folding piece as well as a mechanical Anri dog stopper.

Of course, there are lots of other interesting treasures to find at Brimfield…

This woman with the snowman, seemed quite thrilled with her frosty friend!

This morning May’s field opens, and I will set out again on the hunt for the (apparently) elusive corkscrew.

You never know what might turn up next.