Columbus Day

Some thoughts from Frank Ellis

 

This year, 1992, is the quincentenary of Cristobel Colon's epic voyage. He is of course better known as Christopher Columbus who sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

On 11th October 1992, the day before Columbus Day in the U.S., the Association of British Corkscrew Devotees and Enthusiasts had a get together and celebrated their own Columbus Day. I'm sure we were all relieved that Cristobel changed his name because I'll be buggered if I'm going to a Colon screw exhibition!

The Columbus corkscrew was patented in Germany by Eduard Becker of Solingen on 7th March 1893 (No. 70879). This patent was followed up with the British one granted on 23rd Sept 1893 (No. 17924) and the U.S. patent in 1894.

But why did Becker call his rather clever invention the Columbus? Was it anything to do with the Columbus. Did he have ancestors from Spain or Genoa? I suspect not. The more lyrical explanation is that the retaining ring represents Columbus's round trip which united the two halves of the world together as symbolised by the split frame.

If this were the case then it was quite prophetic, considering the anti-Columbus feelings that have manifested themselves this year. This single minded explorer is accused of being arrogant, but perhaps he was merely confident and opportunistic. He ignored many navigational facts which were available at the time, but accepted those which supported his hypothesis that the Indies were at the other side of the Atlantic. But that is the essential nature of research - the testing of hypotheses. However, I digress. He is accused in retrospect of genocide in the Americas, the rape of its art and culture, and the promotion of the slave trade. He is also blamed for introducing syphilis to Europe.

So why was Becker prophetic in calling his corkscrew the Columbus? The ring holds the two halves of the world together but the final act is to turn it upside down, the ring crashes and the two worlds fall apart.

Well, that's a fanciful suggestion. I suspect that the real reason for the choice of name is that, although the patent was granted in 1893, the initial application was probably made in 1892. The corkscrew was no doubt produced and sold in Germany in 1892. There were certainly big pro-Columbus celebrations in the United States that year and the same must have been true in Europe. I think Becker was either simply inspired by the man or saw an opportunity to make money - just like any old far sighted merchant would.

Our British Columbus Day brought out about 20 corkscrews, of which we photographed 11 examples from the collections of Chris Sykes, Mike Meakin, Frank Ellis and Geoff Kenward.

So, as you can see from the picture, the great explorer, with the help of Eduard Becker, spawned 3 basic versions of his corkscrew. There is the one with the solid steel frame with a wooden handle and spring on the shank, the pressed sheet steel frame with wooden handle and spring, and the all steel ball-bearing assisted model.

It has been said that the journey of Apollo 11 in 1969 was the modern equivalent of Columbus's epic voyage of discovery. Wasn't it a shame that Armstrong pre-empted that great event in 1901.

Top: Left to right

1. Black painted wooden handle, spring round shank, pressed sheet steel frame marked on the top "Columbus ORIGINAL" (CS)

2. Black painted wooden handle, spring round shank, solid steel frame marked on one side "COLUMBUS" and on the other side "D.R. PATENT No.70879". (CS)

3. All steel with ball race between the shank and the frame - unmarked. (MM)

4. Large antler handle, spring round the shank, solid steel frame marked on one side "COLUMBUS" and on the other side "GERMANY" This corkscrew belonged to the late Evan Perry. (FE)

5. All steel with ball race between the shank and the frame named "Monopol 117" on both sides. (FE)

6. Wooden handle with worn black paint, spring round shank, solid steel frame marked "ORIGINAL". (CS)

Bottom: Left to right.

1. Wooden handle with worn black paint, spring round shank, pressed sheet steel frame marked on one side "KL". (FE)

2. Black painted wooden handle, spring round shank, solid steel frame marked "ORIGINAL BACCHUS" on one side and on the other. (FE)

3. Wooden handle with worn black paint, spring round shank, pressed sheet steel frame marked down one side "D.R.G.M.354940" (FE)

4. Wooden handle with worn black paint, spring round shank, solid steel frame marked "FRUHER D.R.P.70879". (GK)

5. Wooden handle with black paint, spring round shank, pressed sheet steel marked D.R.G.M. on one side.(GK)

There were also some unmarked solid steel frames and a South American version from MM.

We also heard of 2 others from CS, one marked "COLUMBA" and the other "COLUMBUS" and "FRUHER D.R.P.70879"


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