Home > History of Wine > “This hand a Cork-scrue did contain”: From a worm to The Durand

“This hand a Cork-scrue did contain”: From a worm to The Durand


The CORKSCREW.

Whether of silver, or of temper’d steel,
I grasp thee firm, to my transported touch
Alike thou’rt welcome; for by thy kind aid
The cork, that blazons in its coat of wax,
I pierce intrepid, and transix the foe,
That rudely bars the passage to my joys,
Full in the centre.  Then with nervous arm
Compleate the gripe, and give th’imprison’d wine,
Champagne, or Port, its liberty of air.

Jemmy Copywell. 1758.[1]

At a recent tasting, Darryl commented on the murderous rate at which I am opening and writing about old bottles of wine.  I took this as a complement because Darryl and his wife Nancy are dedicated lovers of old wine.  It is true that as of late I have been drinking wine from the 1960s and 1970s at an almost daily rate.  If now only constant, it was certainly in periodic bursts over the past year.  To be able to access such old wine, without frustration and disintegrated corks, requires the use of a very good corkscrew.  Since the beginning of last year there is only one tool that I use for these old bottles and that is The Durand.  That I even possess a Durand is solely due to a gift from my friend Mannie Berk of The Rare Wine Company.

The Durand is the latest evolution in the 300 year history of corkscrews.  Most histories of the corkscrew state that the earliest reference was noted in the 1681. This is when Nehemiah Grew compared a “worme-stone” to that of “a Steel Worme used for the drawing of Corks out of Bottles.”[2]  Then there is the typical jump forward to Reverend Samuel Henshall’s first patented corkscrew of 1795.  This one century jump in chronology hides the fact that corkscrew use was widespread, they were much beloved, and even stolen.

The cellular structure of cork from Robert Hooke's Micrographia. [3]

The cellular structure of cork from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. [3]

Bottles of various materials have been stoppered with corks for some time.  Robert Hooke detailed his microscopic observations of cork in his important book Micrographia (1665).[3]  Unfortunately, his description of it being “unapt to suck and drink in Water” as well as the ability “to stop and hold air in a Bottle” does not extend to needing a screw to remove the cork from a bottle.  It is 1702 that we find mention in another publication of the Royal Society of London where a microscopic observation is compared to the “close spiral revolution like the Worm of a Bottle Screw”.[4]

The 1702 date is interesting.  Just one year prior Guy Miege published The Short French Dictionary in Two Parts (1701) in London.  While it contains vinous phrases, some of which appear in my post “The Wine smiles in the Glass” : Vinous Phrases In “Present Use” Back In 1701, there are none related to drawing a cork with a screw.[5] Abel Boyer was the second lexigrapher after Guy Miege to publish a French-English/English-French dictionary.  His Dictionnaire royal francois-anglois (et anglois-francois) (1702) contains the following passage, “A Screw, (to pull out the Cork of a Bottle) Un Tire-bouchon.”[6]  Although Abel Boyer’s dictionary was published in The Hague he did spend time in London beginning in 1689.  Clearly wine was important to Guy Miege so the omission of a cork screw in his dictionary is interesting.  Perhaps the corkscrew burst into the London wine scene between 1701 and 1702.

There is something to this thought for cork screws are mentioned in London newspaper advertisements from the first two decades of the 18th century.  For example, in 1708 someone lost “a little Green colour’d She-Monkey, with a small Cord about her, and a Cork-Screw at the end of it.”[7]  The following year a person lost their “Silver Cork-Screw” at Robin’s Coffee House.[8]

Title page from Nicholas Amhurst's The Bottle-Scrue: a Tale. 1732.

Title page from Nicholas Amhurst’s The Bottle-Scrue: a Tale. 1732.

Whenever the availability of the corkscrew became wide spread, there were poems written about them in the 18th century.  Perhaps the first and most famous is Nicholas Amhurst’s “The Bottle-Scrue. A Tale”.  This tale appears in his book Poems on Several Occasions (1720). Here he writes of a Sir Roger who set to uncork a bottle for his supper that was “ripe and well”.  Sir Roger apparently did not own a corkscrew.

Sir Roger set his teeth to work;
This way and that the Cork he ply’d,
And wrench’d in vain from side to side;
In vain his ivory grinders strain’d,
For still unmov’d the Cork remain’d;

And grown by thirst more valiant far,
He meditates a second war;
Firm on the spungy Cork he plac’d
His doubty thumb, and downwards press’d
The yielding wood; – but oh! Dire luck!
Fast in its place his own thumb stuck
Loudly the pleas’d spectators laugh’d,
With pain and shame the Parson chaf’d,
Long did he strive, with adverse fate,
His captive thumb to extricate,
Nor could his liberty regain,
‘Till hammer broke the glassy chain;
Leave to withdraw the Priest desir’d,
And bowing, sullenly retir’d.

Sir Roger eventually falls asleep only to dream of “the God of Wine” who stood in front of him, where in “This hand a Cork-scrue did contain, And that a Bottle of Champaign”.  Bacchus had seen the humiliation of the night and came to provide a solution.

Thus, with a smile, kind BACCHUS spoke,
And in his hand the weapon took,
He slipt it o’er his finger-joint,
And to the Cork apply’d the point,
Gently he turn’d it round and round,
‘Till in the midst its spires were wound,
Then bending earthward low, betwixt
His knees the Bottle firmly fixt,
And giving it a sudden jerk,
From its close prison wrench’d the Cork:
The wine now issu’d at command,
When, with a bumper in his hand,
Your health, Sir Roger, quoth the God,

Sir Roger recounted his dream when he woke up and was “intent to form the new machine” which he called “a BOTTLE-SCRUE”.  Whether by the name of bottle screw or cork screw the popularity must have grown in the 1720s such that comments on its use appear in Richard Bradley’s The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director (1727).[9]  Here it is noted that “it is hard to pull out the Corks without a Screw”.  To prevent the cork from breaking “the Screw ought to go through the Cork”.

It is in 1714 that a bottle screw is first mentioned in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey which was London’s central criminal court.[10]  The term cork screw appears in 1721 when William Casey was found guilty of assaulting Gregory Turn on the highway where he took his “Cork-Skrew”.[11]  Cork screws were also stolen from store display cases[12] and dwelling houses.[13]  Some thefts were violent such as when John Carter and Peter Rivers held a pistol to the breast of Henry Howard upon which they “rifled his Pockets” taking money, buckles, and a cork screw.[14]  Men were not the only ones to carry cork screws with them.  Christian Smith carried a silver Cork Screw on her person.[15]  In 1739, Ann Price and Hannah Prior were assaulted by John Albin.[16]  Putting a pistol to Ann Price he stomped his food and cried, “d-mn you, your Money”.  When she handed him her money and corkscrew, he threw them back.

I too share a love for wine and the practical need to open bottles as those of some 300 years ago.  Whenever I am to open an old bottle, be it at my house, Lou’s, or somewhere else, I always carry my Durand with me.  Mannie Berk reset my concept of old and mature wine when he served us a 1922 Marques de Riscal, Rioja Reserva.  With the Durand he has facilitated my exploration of other venerable vintages.


[1] The Gentleman’s and London Magazine: Or Monthly Chronologer, 1741-1794. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=6p5EAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA2#v=onepage&q&f=false
[2] Grew, Nehemiah Grew. Musaeum Regalis Societatis.  1681. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=LXI_AAAAcAAJ&pg=PR2#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] Hooke, Robert.  Micrographia. 1665. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=W5FqAAAAMAAJ&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Volume 10. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=_dReAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA1135#v=onepage&q&f=false
[5] Miege, Guy.  The Short French Dictionary In Two Parts.  1701. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=QrxRAAAAcAAJ&vq=wine&pg=PT1#v=onepage&q=wine&f=false
[6] Boyer, Abel. Dictionnaire royal francois-anglois (et anglois-francois). 1702. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=Q6RNAAAAcAAJ&pg=PT5#v=onepage&q&f=false  I should note that other editions of this book have “scrue” instead of “screw”.
[7] Classified ads . Daily Courant (London, England), Wednesday, May 26, 1708; Issue 1957.
[8] Classified ads . Daily Courant (London, England), Friday, November 25, 1709; Issue 2524.
[9] Bradley, Richard. The Country Housewife and Lady’s Directory. 1727. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=nppgAAAAcAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[10] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), September 1714, trial of William Deverell (t17140908-60).
[11] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), August 1721, trial of Martin Mackowen William Casey William Casey (t17210830-48).
[12] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), January 1725, trial of John Hobbs (t17250115-5).
[13] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), July 1728, trial of James Haddock (t17280717-1).
[14] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), February 1730, trial of John Carter Peter Rivers (t17300228-15).
[15] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), September 1733, trial of Robert Lowle (t17330912-73).
[16] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 17 July 2015), September 1739, trial of John Albin (t17390906-4).

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