An Antique Silver Corkscrew-An Exceptional Find

This article first appeared in The BST

I am sure we can all recall the corkscrew auctions as “Christies” – South Kensington, London. Twice each year many fanatical collectors from all parts of the globe would head for London, with the hope of enlarging their collections.

July 2010, a really interesting and exciting Georgian (r. George III 1760 - 1820) traveling canteen set (lot 260) was offered up for sale. The set consisted of a leather sheaf or roll containing 7 silver gilt traveling utensils each secured in its own separate pocket (See image 1).

The 7 components consisted of:

  1. A silver gilt table spoon – London 1775
  2. A silver gilt fork – London 1775
  3. A silver gilt tea-spoon – London 1801
  4. A silver gilt marrow spoon
  5. A silver mother of pearl handled knife
  6. A silver metal spice box


Above, Utensils rolled up in leather sheaf


Above, Leather sheaf unrolled with utensils on show

Above, The silver spine engraved with a Viscount's Coronet and the monogram "A".
Beneath that, The pipe tamper ends decorated with a floral pattern.


The Provenance and History of this Important Corkscrew

It is very rare to come across a corkscrew with this kind of provenance and importance which was part of Lot 260 of THE ALTHORP ATTIC SALE. This sale consisted of carefully chosen items, selected by the Trustees of the Althorp Estate. Althorp, for those unfamiliar with it, is the ancestral country home of the Viscount Althorp, Earl Spencer. The present 9th Earl Spencer is the brother of the late Diana – Princess of Wales, who was married to Charles – Prince of Wales. The Althorp country home and estate is in Northampton, England and has been the home of the Spencer family since 1508, when it was completed by John Spencer. Althorp was also the home of the silver pocket corkscrew, where it has been since the 18th century. The letter ‘A’ and the Viscount’s coronet on the spine of the corkscrew are obviously that of Viscount Althorp – Earl Spencer.


The Althorp Country Home


The Coronet and "A" identifying this as belonging to the Viscount Althorp - Earl Spencer


We have further evidence from ‘Christies’ and the attic sale catalogue that the corkscrew belonged to the Spencer family. Thus making it an important piece. Since the auction, research has been done into this piece. A letter was compiled and sent to Lord Spencer at Althorp enquiring about the corkscrew and its original owner. From the reply received we have been able to conclude that this Georgian silver gilt traveling canteen (campaign) set belonged to Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer, who served in the Royal Navy and fought in the Napoleonic Wars and the Greek War of Independence. The date of the items within the canteen set, and the fact that Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer, was a military man, indicate that it was most likely to have been used during his military actions.



Vice-Admiral Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer, was a British naval commander, courtier and Whig politician. He initially served in the Royal Navy and fought in the Napoleonic Wars and the Greek War of Independence, eventually rising to the rank of Vice-Admiral. He succeeded his elder brother as Earl Spencer in 1845 and held political office as Lord Chamberlain of the Household between 1846 and 1848 and as Lord Steward of the Household between 1854 and 1857. In 1849 he was made a Knight of the Garter. Through his second son Charles, Lord Spencer was the great-great-grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales.


Vice-Admiral and Viscount Althorp Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer



Spencer was born at Admiralty Building, London, the fifth son of George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer and Lady Lavinia, daughter of Charles Bingham, 1st Earl of Lucan.



Spencer joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman and fought in the Napoleonic Wars in the Mediterranean and eventually rose to the rank Captain in 1822. During the Greek War of Independence he commanded H.M.S. Talbot at the battle of Navarino in October 1827 and was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in November of that year. The following year he fought with the Naval Brigade in the Morea expedition. For his actions he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Louis of France and awarded the Order of St Anne of Russia and the Order of the Redeemer of Greece.



Spencer retired from naval life and was elected Whig Member of Parliament for Worcestershire in 1831. He was later equerry in the household of the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria’s Mother) from 1840 to 1845. The latter year he succeeded his elder brother in the earldom and took his seat in the House of Lords. When the Whigs came to power under Lord John Russell in 1846, Lord Spencer was appointed Lord Chamberlain of the Household. He was sworn of the Privy Council the same year. He resigned as Lord Chamberlain in 1848 but returned to the government as Lord Steward of the Household in early 1854 under Lord Aberdeen, a post he held until shortly before his death in 1857, the last two years under the premiership of Lord Palmerston. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1849. He was also promoted to Rear-Admiral in 1852 and to Vice-Admiral (on the reserve list) in 1857. Lord Spencer died at the family seat at Althorp, Brington, Northamptonshire, in December 1857 at the young age of 59.


© Corkscrew Appraisals 2018