Corkscrew Categories for Collectors - A History
The shape of things to come from Frank Ellis, Fred Kincaid, Fred O’Leary and Joe Paradi.
Corkscrew categories for collectors.
It is human nature to ask questions and it also seems to be human nature to collect things. Some collect stamps; some collect books; some collect coins - you name it: someone will collect it. We just happen to collect corkscrews - crazy, isn't it?.
It also seems to be collectors’ nature to put their items into pigeon holes. That way you can find things easily, or display them in some logical order, or identify gaps in the collection and have targets to aim for. Stamp collectors put them into countries, or colours, or kings; into triangles, transport or trees. Some prefer blondes, brunettes and red-heads but that’s another story.
Corkscrew collectors have lots of options on how to categorise their toys. There have been articles written on the topic before and some books have been organised in a rational way. But the longer you collect and the harder you try to place corkscrews into categories, the clearer it becomes that there are a number of rules to the game.
Rule 1: The problems of putting corkscrews into
categories are directly proportional to the inventiveness of the makers of
Then there is the Wife’s Rule: "You’ve got too many".
Why do we want to categorise our collections? There are a number of answers:
The problems grow as the collection grows and your memory gets weaker as the years roll on. The earlier you start to categorise your collection the easier it is. But where do you start and how do you do it? The major aim of any system is to ensure that you can find things quickly. There should never be any major question of where a corkscrew fits and ideally, there should not be a "miscellaneous" category - that is just asking for trouble. It should be acceptable by every collector. It should be compatible with an electronic database, searchable and relatively intuitive.
Those were bold targets that the four of us set ourselves when we started discussing the challenge in October 1998, and, after hundreds of e-mails and heated discussions over drinks we know that we have got a system that works. The project has grown massively since we started; so large that several more collector/experts have joined in over the years and took part from the start or just for a few years.
The Standard Corkscrew Reference Work SCReW uses 13 Classes. Ten of these are for corkscrews; one for champagne taps and related items; one for non-worm cork extractors, and one for accessories. Every item in a corkscrew collection can be fitted into these 13 Classes. Each Class is coded by its initial upper case letter based on the English language - this gives the start of the SCReW code.
It looks so easy and obvious- but it took years of anguish to get to this point. There are two major guiding
principles in this classification which you need to place a corkscrew in
the correct place:
Anyone who starts thinking about such a coding system soon runs into the same problems that we did - you end up wanting to use the same coding letter more than once. That is why Champagne tools ended up being Z and not C. Combinations won.
A relatively simple Yes/No decision tree has been developed to guide the user through these Classes. It is easy to use and means that every corkscrew enthusiast will place the item in the same Class as everyone else.
So what happens once you have identified the right Class? The Standard Corkscrew Reference Work gives every typical corkscrew a 6 character SCReW code in the format ABc123.
"A" is the Class
So what use is this you may ask? Well, it is not a lot of use at all unless you have a database to go with it.
SCReWbase, the associated database is continually being compiled by a group of dedicated (some might say "insane") enthusiasts into which every known significant example of a corkscrew is being entered. It is fully searchable. Every record contains a picture of the corkscrew together with a description, details of markings, details of patents and book references and a guide to manufactures. The data entries can be browsed using the pictures to identify a piece. It is a work that may never be 100% complete but it will be an invaluable repository of corkscrew knowledge.
The database is automatically linked to Corkscrew Collector – a program for keeping track of your personal database for your own collection. The process is simple:
You will then have a personal entry coded as ABc123a. Your next example of an ABc123 corkscrew would automatically become ABc123b etc.
As already described, the SCReW code is 6 characters with the first denoting one of 13 Classes. The second character - the Type- is specific for that Class. To get a feel for the way it works let us look for example at Class L for Levers. There are 5 Types:
These are meant to be useful and "obvious" yet be mechanically accurate sub-divisions. They are meant to bring like things together yet retain a certain rigour.
The use of C, D and S in these Types was a simple decision. However, the purist will appreciate that Lund types and Waiter’s friends are also examples of Single levers. Pulling out the Lund types and the Waiter’s friends took a fair bit of discussion - but there are enough examples to make it a worthwhile thing to do. Hopefully every collector knows what a Lund type refers to - it has two handles with the bottom one being static and the upper one pivoted about two thirds from the handle end.
Waiter’s friends describes a set of very specific corkscrews. The pivot is at one end at the top of the post that fits onto the bottle neck; the worm is in the middle and the hand pressure is at the other end - the hand pressure is upwards to remove the cork.
The third character in the SCReW code is a lower case letter and denotes the "style" - a further sub-division to aid in the classification of the corkscrew. For Class L there are 18 styles such as "cam", "rack", "eight arms", "ten arms" and 14 others. A Royal Club for example gets the code LSc. It is a single lever with a cam action.
But there are problems in deciding the Class of a corkscrew that you might have in front of you. So many of them seem to fit into more than one of the Classes. This was one of the big issues that we had to face and to solve. What Class is a Hootch-Owl? It is a "double Lever", it is a Figural design and it has Combination features due to the cap lifters and grips on the "wings". It ends up as LDr in fact - a Lever, Double with rack action. The mechanical advantage rule takes precedence.
Another difficult area was deciding which corkscrews ended up as Combinations, Figurals and Pocket/Protected. Take the fairly common example of a worm with a cap lifter handle that fits into a figural shaped sheath (e.g. boot, coffee pot or owl - see The Ultimate Corkscrew Book, Don Bull page 139). Such pieces could fit all three Classes, but the "essence" of them codes them as Figural.
This introductory article cannot do justice to the depths to which the coding system goes. So there are issues you can read more about in the other articles here to see how each of the 13 Classes have been treated. They all have their own inherent problems.
With just these two simple examples the reader can perhaps start to appreciate why this project has taken well over 2 years to get to this point. We four would have destroyed a small forest with snail-mail if e-mail did not exist. We have got to know each other pretty well.
It all started with Fred Kincaid’s son wanting to get a birthday present to keep his father quiet for a while - some hope!. He persuaded a friend, Kathleen Cinelli of Merisoft, to develop a corkscrew database. Fred was delighted and started to categorise his whole collection using a coding system of 39 categories that Joe Paradi had presented in a 1993 Quarterly Worme. Subsequently Fred gave a public demonstration of what became known as Corkscrew Collector at the 1998 CCCC AGM in Napa. At this event Fred O’Leary became interested in the potential of this electronic resource and started using it, but also making loads of suggestions for improvements. Frank Ellis also got interested in the structure of it, but had worries that the 39 categories would create a whole can of worms in the long run and that we could do better. And, Joe Paradi was already in the mix. At times we all wish we had never exchanged those first few e-mails!
There has been innovation, hard work and slog, vigorous arguments and total disagreements. More by chance than design, our personal characteristics are all different but are perfectly suited to this team effort. The two of us (Frank and Joe) with day jobs typed until midnight at times; the retired couple (Fred and Fred) had it easier - they just did 14 hour days! But somehow the humour kept coming through. It was an amazing experience.
But as we worked normal life went on of course. Kathleen had a baby. There were family worries of illnesses and sadly a death. There were personal problems too. One can not underestimate the time that we have spent, but it was spent getting deeper and deeper into corkscrews. We all learnt vast amounts and acquired an appreciation of minor details that we never thought possible.
Then, Kathleen's professional life took a turn and she was unable to continue the project - so what to do? This was a serious threat to the long term success and use of SCReWBase as it is not a static system. Moreover, Microsoft and everything else changes all the time and we were convinced that we will lose the ability to continue to use this great tool if we do not continue to develop it. Enter one of Joe Paradi's sons, Joseph (named in a family tradition of first born) who is a software professional. he got interested and took on the job of continuing the development of this system. However, as technology developed over the years, Joseph had to completely redesign the format and technology for these two programs. This resulted in Version 6.0 of the new system, first released in 2007. This was an instant hit as the users had recognised the major improvements in the user interface that was introduced. The newest version is SCReWBase 8.0 just released in the summer of 2011 with about 7,800 pieces and much better pictures and more data.
The others that have joined the project are taking responsibility for the data entry of specific Classes and the work is approaching completion.
Our hope is that it will continue to be appreciated by the whole corkscrew world. It is a reference work for everyone - from novice to expert alike. As we all rapidly found out "you may think you know a lot about corkscrews - but there is always something new to learn."
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