Dean Walters is a collector in California. He wrote this article for the CCCC’s Quarterly Worm in 2008. There are clearly still corkscrews made with the intent to deceive collectors, and this article is certainly applicable to today’s modern fakes. Thank you Dean!
A COLLECTION OF FAKES & FRAUDS, Early Warning
Would you be able to recognize a fake corkscrew if you were holding it in your hand? Experts and average collectors alike might have difficulty discerning fab from fakery, but for the more obvious frauds. The high prices of today’s quality antique corkscrews have created a market for the creations of deceptive metal smiths, predominantly in the form of 18th and early 19th Century steel, silver and bronze corkscrews.
The level of quality fakery has risen over the past two decades, with fakers substantially advancing their level of skills. Early attempts proved flawed in some respects regarding techniques which proved to be recognizable upon close inspection of the corkscrews.
Just how long fakes have been plaguing the world of collectible corkscrews is difficult to say, but from personal experience, I believe that the end of the 1980s saw the first of some fairly good attempts. I purchased a silver tire bouchon a cage from an English antiques dealer, but soon had suspicions. I corresponded with the late Bernard Watney about the corkscrew, having sent him a photo of it. He confirmed my suspicions that I had indeed purchased an example of deception, and confided that it and another similar French cage made of copper, had been circulating in the U.K. not long before.
Just a couple of years later in 1991, a torrent was unleashed. I was quite envious when an antiques dealer and friend showed me a small collection of 18th & early 19th Century corkscrews which had just been acquired by my friend. I had never seen so many interesting corkscrews of this genre for sale in the market. My friend asked me to photograph the corkscews, and I was very excited to do so.
A little time passed when my friend called to tell me that some new and disturbing light had been shed upon the collection. Some very knowledgeable sources were aware of this ‘collection’ and knew it to be a group of fakes created recently in England. All of the items in the collection had been sold to various collectors, but with this revelation, my friend was forced to contact all buyers with the sad information. Refunds were offered to all, and with few exceptions, most accepted, with few deciding to keep the pieces for undisclosed reasons.
Although the situation was alarming, it provided an opportunity to learn and be more prepared for the inevitable…more fakes in our midst. Here are a few specific things which should be scrutinized to determine authenticity:
1. Brazed Seams
For steel pocket corkscrews with sheaths, or barrel corkscrews such as tire bouchons a cage. Sheaths for picnics or pocket corkscrews are formed by rolling a flat sheet of steel, then joining the edges by brazing the seam with a soft metal such as bronze. 18th & early 19th Century examples would have a bronze seam which is fairly visible under magnification. The barrel of a tire bouchon a cage, such as in photo 2 would be joined in the same fashion, along with any of the conjoined elements of the cage. No such evidence is found here. A bronze seam is easy to spot with magnification, where the yellow or gold colored metal sharply contrasts the steel.
2. Construction of Worms
This ‘collection’ provided a great opportunity for comparison, insofar as the worms of the different corkscrews had distinct similarities. All of the archimedean worms (see photos 1, 2, 3 & 4,) appeared to be from the same source. The wire helix worms of almost every other corkscrew in the collection had distinctly similar construction for the steel, patina, guage of wire, and pitch.
3. Patina of Steel & Silver
It is especially evident in this group of silver corkscrews that the maker treated the surface of the silver to give it a patina of age and use. On the other hand, the maker applied the same technique to all of the pieces. The photos…5,6,7,9,9a,10…exhibit the continuity of surface patina. Upon close inspection by magnification of these silver corkscrews, it is also evident that the factors which create a natural patina have not been present. A patina which is achieved over a couple of centuries, is commonly very random and rife with irregularities. These are qualities which are difficult to replicate.
The steel worms of these corkscrews also exhibit surface qualities very consistent throughout the examples. It is telltale that there is little variation from piece to piece, suggesting a source of origin in common.
The pliants (harps or bows) and picnics in this group exhibit similar styles and design in construction, casting and turning. If seen individually, the similarities could not be observed, but as a group, much becomes obvious. There are common threads seen in the finials, shanks and harps.
5. Silver Marks
By law and for centuries, silver items have been marked in most of the western nations and their colonies. The marks may be as simple as to denote silver purity. i.e. ‘Sterling’, .950, 800 etc. English marks are an example of detailed marks exclaiming as much as the guarantee of the Sterling purity, city of origin, the maker, and year of manufacture. Not one of the silver corkscrews in this group had even the simplest mark of identification.
Although the maker(s) of these corkscrews reached a fairly high level of sophistication, the subtleties of authenticity failed to be achieved. At first glance, it would be easy to be deceived, but if you ask the right questions, jubilation quickly unravels. These corkscrews were returned to one or more of their original sources, money was refunded, yet it is doubtful that the corkscrews were destroyed.
Higher levels of sophistication have materialized since the event chronicled above. Recently I was shown an 18th Century steel combination tool with a corkscrew. You can find a similar example in ‘Corkscrews of the Eighteenth Century’, a fine book by Bert Giulian…see illustration number 95 on page 99, far right…combination including corkscrew, nut cracker, and hoof pick. The piece in question was much the same as the example in the book, but the sheath had a pillared design (octagonal cross section).
The piece was very compelling, the patina very convincing, and superficially the piece was stunning. However, on close inspection, with magnification and adequate light, the sheath had no evidence of a bronze seam. Furthermore, the interior of the sheath revealed machining marks from a drill. Metal smiths two hundred years ago did not have drills capable of hollowing out a solid steel rod to create a sheath.
I mention the above example to point out that fakes are still being created, the techniques rising to a higher level, and yet some details remain overlooked or difficult to achieve. If offered something from this early period, it would be prudent to ask questions, make a determined inspection with magnification, and consider the source. Don’t be a victim or waste your money. Stay informed and on guard.
Here are more of the fakes that were in the “collection” of silver and steel corkscrews which included the French cages which were posted recently.
These were all of silver colored metal, but unmarked. All were well made, and included steel worms which were probably removed from authentic old corkscrews.