the unappreciated “corkscrews”
by Joseph C. Paradi
There are very few corkscrew collectors who specialize in Champagne or Soda taps, I will call these collectively Taps. On the other hand, most collectors do have some of these but for the most part not much attention is paid to them. This is too bad because we have a fascinating group of devices here that merit some thought. Of course, taps are not really “corkscrews” as their function is not to pull the cork out of the bottle so the liquid can be poured out, but rather to “meter” it out while keeping the cork in place.
Progress has caught up with taps also. You may wonder why there are no taps for sale these days. I believe the screwcap and small packaging (bottles and cans) had eliminated the need for the long soda taps. Champagne taps are gone because champagne is no longer considered a medicine to be taken in small quantities and we do finish a bottle when opened. After the research I had made to find modern taps, I have only been able to locate one company in Italy, which has shown a picture of one they make now. I have not been able to obtain an example of this as yet.
The impetus for this article came from my work with the SCReW (Standard Corkscrew Reference Work) where, among other things, I am responsible for Class “Z” which covers these taps – and also devices that help with the effort of accessing the contents of the “CO2” containing bottles they are applied to. The following are the various Types of items covered under Class Z:
|ACCESSORIES – a fairly large group of items which do not either remove the Champagne cork or assist in drawing the wine
|CORK REPLACER – is seldom seen nowadays because most people do not even know they exist. But these are used to stopper the bottle after the cork is removed; they are equipped with a tap that allows the liquid to come into one’s glass.
|DROP POINT – covers the group, which comes equipped with a detachable point, that is fit into the end of the hollow shaft.
|EASER – is a device that eases the champagne cork out of the bottle, a gentle form of cork removal.
|GRIPPER – represents items that typically look like a pair of pliers, although there are others as well in this group.
|KNIVES – usually have short curved blades that help in cutting the retaining wires holding the champagne cork in the bottle.
|LONG TAPS – represents the long tube equipped taps used to meter out carbonated beverages or fermented apple or fruit cider.
|MEDIUM TAPS – were used to access the liquid in smaller bottles but were probably used for carbonated beverages or fermented ciders or juices.
|PIPES – cover all the taps, which are pipes, usually closed at the end where the metal is formed into a sharp point to facilitate entrance into the cork.
|TROCARS – represent the taps, which have a spike or stiff wire that extends from the top to beyond the end of the tube and serves as the point to ease penetration into the cork. Once in, the trocar is removed and the valve is closed.
|WIRE CLIPPERS– is a group that resembles scissors or pliers, whose task is to clip the retaining wires from champagne corks.
But what I want to talk about is the technical and construction details of these taps because to me as an engineer, this matters the most.
The technology is best illustrated in just 4 of these Types, so that is what I am about to concentrate on here. These are Drop Point, Long and medium Taps, Pipes and Trocars.
But before I go on, let me add the general features that appear regularly as part of a tap. These are: worm on the shaft/pipe, a small worm (tip worm) at the end of the pipe and a smooth pipe with no worm.
The final technology issue is the valve design, which distinguishes the different pieces. There are 6 different valve mechanisms (if all can be called such) or rather handle and mechanism combinations. Some valves open and close by turning a valve handle 90 degrees to cut or start the flow which is achieved via a hole through the valve that aligns with the pipe carrying the liquid (used by one handle, top handle, double handle and spring valves). The other mechanism is when the valve plugs up or opens the end of a pipe or the base of the valve housing (the technique used by screw valves and lever valves) So, here they are:
|One handled valves are the most often used, these are side valves, single handle, differentiated from the “Top Valve”. They open and close by a 90 degree turn and sometimes have a stop mechanism to limit the turning.
|Screw valves open and close the fluid flow by moving a screw that threads itself in/out of the housing and thus opens/closes the tap – can be located on the side or at the top.
|The spring valve uses a spring to close the valve, to open, the handle is pressed down and the fluid flows, once the handle is released the spring closes it – could be side or top.
|Here the valve handle is located on the top of the piece, but it works the same way as the one handled valve shown above.
|In two handled valves the handles are on both sides of the pipe, perpendicular to it. The on/off mechanism is the same as the one handled tap’s and can have a stop mechanism as well.
|This is one type that does not appear often. The open/close cycle is accomplished by a lever that moves the tip of the tap up and down, using a wire that runs the length of the tube.
Ok, now we can get on with the variations this set of attributes give us. But if I dealt with each individual combination possibilities, I would have 5 Types with 4 Styles long and tip worm are typically applied to soda taps only and worm or no worm and 6 valve types. At the extreme that gives us almost 120 different combinations. So I will just give you the most interesting examples here.
The Main Types
Let us start with the Drop Point type that has two styles, one with a worm affixed on the outside (a) of the pipe and the other (b) without. This type works on the principle that the sharp point is stuck into the end of the tap when the tap is inserted into the cork. Once the tap has completely penetrated the cork, the sharp point drops into the bottle and the pipe can now carry fluid. Once the beverage is gone, the point is fished out and reused.
The Long Taps were used primarily for soda, cider and other carbonated beverages. These drinks came in different sized bottles, some large containing 2-3 gallons while others just a half to a gallon. Hence the two different lengths. So what do we call “long” (a) and “mid-length” (b)? We generally, and arbitrarily defined the former as taps with a length of greater than 20 centimeters or 8 inches, while mid-length is under 20 cm or shorter than 8 inches. There is one explanation for the existence of shorter taps – the bottles would lie on their sides, so the pipe length does not matter, but I have no documentation that shows this, so I don’t know, but they are there. For the most part, these are rather frugal designs, quite practical, not much effort to be fancy. But, there are some nice treatments in a few cases. Interestingly, almost all long taps have a short, 3-4 turn screw fashioned into their pipe ends (I called this a “tip-worm”) which serves as the corkscrew. Soda bottles were not corked as tightly as champagne bottles and the idea was not to pull the corks anyway, so the tap had an easier time passing through the corks, hence, the short screw on the end was sufficient.
The majority of champagne taps fall within either the Pipes type or they are Trocars. Here we will look at the pipes, the two basic style differences are again one with a worm affixed on the outside (a) of the pipe and the other (b) without. But, there are many smaller differences and several patented aspects mainly relating to the way the fluid is metered out. The valve designs, dealt with above, are quite important distinguishing features for this type.
The final type I want to discuss is Trocars which has, as theirmain distinguishing feature, a long spike or wire that goes all the way from the top to the bottom of the tap. The two basic style differences are again one with a worm affixed on the outside (a) of the pipe and the other (b) without. In some cases, the handle is attached to the trocar and is pulled out once the tap is in the cork (c). In other cases, the trocar screws into the top of the handle/base and is removed by screwing it out (d). Typically, the trocar is inserted through the on/off valve when the valve is open and the trocar passes through the hole in the valve.
So there you are. Taps are different and if someone collects these as a “special” interest, they will find, as I have, that taps can not be easily related to other corkscrews as their design, usage and construction are very different from the corkscrews we use to remove the cork.