Arguably the World’s Largest Collection of Antique Corkscrews


Bob Tollini I admit it, I’m a collector. As a kid, I collected keychains, stickers and miniature figurines. I have a Christmas ornament collection dating back to 1979, and as a mom, I collect my kids’ artwork and school papers.

We all collect something. It’s just human nature. But for some of us, collecting becomes a passion. Why do we collect? The reasons range from stress reduction to nostalgia to investment or psychological security.

We’ve decided to feature some of Geist’s most amazing, eccentric and expansive collections. They may be hiding right in your neighbor’s basement!

To kick things off, I visited the Admiral’s Bay home of Bob and Pat Tollini. Bob has been collecting antique corkscrews for 15 years and has amassed about 500 unique designs from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. When I first heard about Bob’s unusual collection, I had just one question: Why?

“My wife said she never had anything to buy me for birthdays and Christmas and that I should start collecting something,” Bob explains. But why corkscrews?

It all started with an article Bob read in the New York Times about collecting antique corkscrews.

“I told my wife, ‘This is the silliest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ll start collecting these,’” Bob recalls. It started as a bit of a joke, but as Bob began learning more, he became fascinated with the history of corkscrews.

And he’s not alone. There are several resources for corkscrew collectors, as evidenced by the existence of Corkscrew.com, which features collecting tips, history and links to collectors’ clubs.

Before capped bottles were invented around 1900, every type of liquid — from cough syrup to perfume to bleach — had a cork. Therefore, the corkscrew was an essential tool for everyone, whether you were a bartender, workman or a housewife.

“The finest metalworkers worked on corkscrews,” Bob said.

IMG_8855Bob’s basement collection includes corkscrews of all shapes and sizes — French “zig zags,” German portable corkscrews, English workmen’s tools and 18th and 19th-century decorative corkscrews.

Bob and Pat have visited just about every small town in the state hunting for antique corkscrews. Pat even started her own collection of mechanical bottle stoppers — cute, moveable bottle toppers that were hand-carved in the Swiss Alps region from 1910 to the 1930s.

IMG_8863 “We’d find rare corkscrews worth $200 and get them for $5,” Bob fondly recalls. Unfortunately, the advent of Ebay and other online auction sites has spoiled the thrill of the hunt for Bob and other collectors.

“Before, the game was, it was hard to find but cheap to buy; now it’s easy to find, but they’re very expensive.” In 2001, an original-patented, vintage corkscrew sold on Ebay for $13,550!

Antique shops have closed down like crazy in recent years because antique dealers can make more money selling their wares on the internet, Bob said.

“It’s taken the fun of the discovery out of it,” Bob laments. He’s all but stopped adding to his collection as a result.

Nonetheless, Bob’s collection is quite impressive (although he rarely shows anyone for fear they will consider him a crazed eccentric). He plans one day to donate the collection to his alma mater, Cornell University, for display in the upscale hotel run through its Hotel Management program.

If you know of someone in the Geist area with an unusual or impressive collection, contact Laura Gates at laura@atgeist.com.

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