Fred O’Leary (with help from Frank Ellis, Fred Kincaid and Joe Paradi)


Often people ask what defines a really good corkscrew for a collector.  This is hard to answer because we all have our own needs and goals.  But in all cases, “condition” is an issue.  While the following is a little tongue in cheek, the issue is serious – to a serious collector or dealer – because value depends on the “grade” of the piece and the condition together with rarity separates the rubbish from the diamond for a collector.  So here is a way to “talk the same language” when you argue about a piece.

Even experienced (expert?) collectors argue about the condition of a corkscrew in their hands.  Beginning collectors and dealers who do not specialize in corkscrews think that unless the piece is rust encrusted and obviously broken, it is in mint or at least excellent condition.  As we worked away at the SCReW (Standard Corkscrew Reference Work) CDROM, we saw the need to devise an easily understood but comprehensive condition definitions.  

(0) NO GRADEDefault setting; grade to be determined

(1)*JUNK (junk)
Rarity: So much of it out there it offends the sensibilities
Asset Value: It always turns out to be worth less than the price you paid
Collectibility: No pride of ownership as a collectible
Display Potential: Usually relegated to a bottom drawer or shoebox stored in the back of the closet
Personal Use: Generally not worthy of use practically or aesthetically
Auction Availability: Forget it
Markets: The curse of flea markets, garage sales, thrift shops, eBay and large lots

(2) ** STARTER PIECE (just for fun)
Rarity: Common
Asset Value: Prices change marginally over time; first exposure to the quantity/condition rule – a few good corkscrews are always worth more than many of lower desirability
Collectibility: Easy to buy – hard to sell; most collectors have more of them than they care to admit (or may even know they have); good area for collecting variations
Display Potential: May show a few, but can be pretty boring displayed en masse
Personal Use: Effective for private home use or in polite company because they work and are replaceable
Auction Availability: Likely to appear in multiple lots only
Markets: Low-end staple of general dealers, some specialists wouldn’t touch, bulk of eBay’s listings

(3) *** CORE PIECE (serious collecting begins here)
Rarity: Widely sought after but too many out there to have them all; many “relatively rare but not valuable” pieces fall into this category
Asset Value: Valued for age, mechanics, design, material, variation or some combination thereof, which is not always apparent; prices can be expected to rise incrementally over time; some great “steals” can occur at this level
Collectibility: Easy to get bogged down in this category because of considerable personal satisfaction in owning; a buy/sell/trade favorite but hard to part with anything that is not a duplicate; can get more and more attached each time a sale takes place above what you paid
Display Potential: Good area for specialization, making for interesting groupings either exposed or under glass
Personal Use: A nice touch for special occasions; not for everyday use
Auction Availability: Likely to be sold in individual lots
Markets: Where the most significant market action takes place; can show up with any dealer anytime, but the bread-and-butter of specialists; prices usually quoted for all to see; eBay listing likely to have reserve price

(4) **** CLASSIC CORKSCREWS (serious investing begins here)
Rarity: Not common but can always be found by anyone who wants to pursue
Asset Value: The level of commitment barrier; probably the best store of value of any free market category; value generally unmistakable even to the uninitiated
Collectibility: Highly prized by all collectors, whether in their area of specialization or not
Display Potential: Prominent display piece — usually in a dedicated case or cabinet
Personal Use: Fun to demonstrate but use at your own risk
Auction Availability: Usually some in every auction
Markets: Generally offered by specialty dealers only — may be commingled with rest of inventory but asking price disclosed on request only; expect market (high) reserve on eBay

(5) ***** PREMIER CORKSCREWS (lifetime goal)
Rarity: The rarest and most important pieces that can change hands in public
Asset Value: Comparisons to other worldly assets come into play; requires a personal transformation to endow a single object with such worth
Collectibility: Defines a collection
Display Potential: Brought out on special occasions; otherwise kept under lock and key
Personal Use: For fondling only
Auction Availability: Major corkscrew auctions only; would be the feature item(s)
Markets: Market limited to top specialty dealers; more likely to be placed privately with preferred client than listed with general inventory; rarely turns up on eBay except by an unwitting seller who profits from the competition of informed buyers

(6) ****** MUSEUM PIECE (belongs to the ages)
Rarity: Extremely old and venerable antique; one-of-a-kind; may involve provenance
Asset Value: Priceless
Collectibility: To own is to be a guardian of history, requiring the ultimate level of obsession and means; responsibility for preservation must take precedence over personal gratification
Display Potential: Owning/displaying has significant security implications, even up to home remodelling; belongs in safe or vault with the bonds and diamond necklace — possibly even off-premise
Personal Use: White gloves treatment only; just to observe is a privilege
Auction Availability: No recent auction record, nor any expected
Markets: No market — more likely to be bequeathed than sold; would make a dealer’s career if involved; more likely negotiated directly by the principals (with accountants and lawyers at the side)