Ruby-design corkscrew was advertised to retailers in trade journal The Billboard

Ruby-design corkscrew was advertised to retailers in trade journal The Billboard

When last we left the Walter Ruby corkscrew saga in 2014, I thought the ends were pretty well tied up. In 1939, the Connecticut industrialist and inventor Knud Knudsen had paid Walter Ruby for rights to his design patent for a three-in-one promotional corkscrew, primarily to clear the way to patent his own competing corkscrew design. However, he proceeded to also manufacture a slightly modified Ruby version as well. 

At least one of those has shown up in circulation and has been mentioned on corkscrew enthusiast websites. It is distinguished from Ruby's original "Jim Crax" design mainly by the addition of a pocket clip. However, such sightings are extremely rare and presumably Knudsen did not find great market traction for the item. 

In 2018, one of those enthusiast sites, Corkscrewing Around, posted information that suggests he made a further deal with a Chicago merchandising company to distribute the Ruby corkscrews to national retailers. The CA site found an advertisement that ran in a 1943 edition of The Billboard, precursor to today's Billboard Magazine, that highlights the advantages of the Ruby design. The ad copy reads as follows.


A Combination Cork Screw, Bottle Opener and Mechanical Pencil—Attractively Mounted on Handsome Easel-Back Counter Display Card—12 Pencils to the Card.

With a shortage of Cork Screws and Bottle Openers, you’ll find this 3-in-1 Pencil an especially fast seller. Attractive in color effect, well made, with repelling and expelling lead pencil action. Big retail value at $1.00. Card mounting boosts sales action Everybody buys!

$5.40 PER DOZ. $63.00 PER GROSS

Enclose 25% deposit—balance O. O. D., F. O. B. Chicago

As you can see, The Lee Company advertised a variety of products for sale to retail establishments. Besides the corkscrew, we see clocks and watches, cameras men's wallets, and a variety of novelties. It was a regular advertiser of such gear in The Billboard. One ad claims that Lee sells "a host of other hard-to-get items".

Besides these advertisements, I can't find any other information on the company. We don't know if Lee had purchased the rights to the Ruby corkscrew from Knudsen outright or if it had a one-time deal to sell the items in this market. 

However, the S-shaped bottle opener in the photo makes it abundantly clear that the 3-in-1 corkscrews sold in a 12-pack counter display card are the Ruby corkscrews, and that Walter's clever design innovation eventually reached the market, albeit not in the way he may have had in mind.

Lee is marketing the device not as promotional item for bartenders and waiters as Walter intended, but as a novelty item for counter display at gift shops and other retail outlets. Moreover, the product is positioned for the wartime economy, when there is otherwise a shortage of items like corkscrews and bottle openers. Let alone mechanical pencils.

You may recall from the Just So story on this site that Walter got his start in the novelties trade. It may be fitting that his last achievement in business took him back to his roots.