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“Little Engines” Opened Wine Bottles

There’s a devil operating this corkscrew. He is made of bronze. From Figural Corkscrews, by Donald Bull.


Crkscrews became a necessity in the 17th century, following the discovery by some unknown vintner that sealing his wine bottles with cork enabled them to mature in flavor without being soured by airborne organisms.

It is estimated that the force required to break the adhesion between the cork and the glass bottle is equivalent to lifting a 100-pound bag of cement. Thousands of corkscrews, or “little engines” as one early user called them, were invented to provide this necessary force.

Some do the job very well; others seem to have been designed simply to bewilder the user. From a collector’s point of view, the efficiency of the device doesn’t really matter. He may center his collection around any subject of his choosing - for example, unusual early unpatented corkscrews, the material or decoration of the handle, or more recent figural designs.

Not all corkscrews are designed to open wine bottles. Many other liquids came in bottles that were also sealed with corks, prior to the use of metal caps in the 20th century. These included medicines, perfumes and soft drinks. Corkscrews were designed to fit all these different sizes, and make another interesting area of specialization.

The sizes ranged from very small to the same size as needed for wine bottles. Many had very costly handles, especially those designed to be used with expensive perfumes. Almost all of them were much simpler mechanically, however, since relatively little effort was needed to pull the cork from these bottles.

For comprehensive reference books on corkscrews, Corkscrews, by Fred O’Leary and Figural Corkscrews, by Donald A. Bull (Schiffer Publishing,) are recommended.

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Early Typewriter Used A Treadle

Some of the earliest typewriters, made in the 1870s, came mounted on a sewing machine stand. The treadle, an integral part of the sewing machine stand, was used to return the typewriter carriage.

In fact, the owner of this typewriter model, Sholes & Glidden, sold the contract to manufacture them to Remington, because Remington was already in the sewing machine business and had the necessary designs for the treadle part of the operation.

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Mount Hood Painted Well From Any Direction

This is Mount Hood as painted by Albert Bierstadt in 1869. He was not concerned with geographic accuracy, as there is no way the elements of this landscape could all be seen from the same place. As the notes with the painting explain, it is painted as though viewed from the north shore of the Columbia River, while the profile is what one sees from Portland.

Photograph used by permission.

Albert Bierstadt is one of the most well-known painters of the second half of the 19th century. His paintings of the American West, made from material he gathered as he traveled in this part of the country, introduced many Easterners to a somewhat idealized version of what the Pacific Northwest and California were like.

He actually executed the paintings from his studios in New York and London, using the notes and small oil studies he had made during his travels. He wasn’t concerned about exact representations; instead, he wanted his viewers to get a feeling for the region, although that was often done by exaggeration.

The painting above, Mount Hood, 1869, is in the Portland Art Museum, and is Bierstadt’s interpretation of Mount Hood. It was painted in 1869, and was a gift to the museum from Henry F. Cabell.

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