Robert Leopardi's Corkscrew Story.

Posted: 08/15/2013

How I got into collecting corkscrews by Robert Leopardi

I have been selling wine for a living my entire adult life, assuming that I am an adult. So it was only natural that I would gravitate towards old corkscrews. I was a history major in college and I have always been fascinated by old, well crafted items.  But that is only the backround to my story.

I have a friend from back when I was 14 years old who grew up and took over his family’s business. The business was selling Art. They had galleries in Princeton, N.J. and later in Manhattan. So I was exposed to great 20th century abstract art at an early age. In our twenties I would go back east to hang out with him. His house was filled with great art and great American Arts & crafts Furniture by producers like Gustav Stickley, Charles Limbert, etc.

One night after a round of golf, we were sitting around drinking a bottle of wine and we started talking about why he had bought the furniture. He used the analogy that if you buy a new sofa at the furniture store you would probably pay 2000.00 for it. When you took it home, it suddenly became a 500.00 sofa. He argued that the same 2000.00 spent on a collectible would hold its value or maybe even increase.  He insisted that you shouldn’t buy something just because it would increase in value, but that you truly had to have a liking for it and could live with it and use it.

Now this resonated with me. Here I was a 24 year old wine salesman who didn’t make a whole lot of money, but certainly liked the finer things in life. Here was a way to spend money without it going into a black hole. I came back to Tucson and took it a bit further. I started out by buying a book on the furniture of Gustav and L & JG Stickley . It was a reprint catalogue of their furniture designs.  Then I started checking the classified ads every morning. This was before the internet made it easy for people. I would call people first thing in the morning, sometimes as early as 5:30AM and ask all these weird questions about their old oak furniture.  Things like “Is it square and plain looking?”,  “Can you see the tiger striping?” , “Can you see exposed wooden pegs?”, “Is there thru-tenon construction?”. I found great pieces of furniture for a fraction of the true value of the piece.

I broadened my search. I learned about the pottery of the era, the metal ware, the books, etc.  I also started going to antique shows, estate sales, and antique stores. I read more and more. Then I saw my first old corkscrew. It only made sense. Here I was in the wholesale wine business, I loved history, I loved old things, and no one had any idea what these antique corkscrews were worth.

There was another part to the story. My wife, Marie-France has had a small Travel Agency since the mid 1980s. In the old days, she had tons of free tickets. So we would pick a destination and fly there for the weekend. We would antique all day and then go eat and drink in cool restaurants at night. I would sometimes bring home 30 corkscrews in a weekend. I would also buy pottery, metal ware, and anything else that fit the profile.

Now we have a house full of great furniture, pottery, metal ware, art, and corkscrews! We are surrounded by beautiful things from the past. The patinas are rich. The colors are vibrant. The environment is inspirational. 

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