Walter Ruby

The Jersey City mystery deepens

Remember that among the New York Times clippings about Walter Ruby that I discovered last year there was one that reported an auto accident taking place in Jersey City on June 14, 1936. A car driven by a Walter Ruby, age 41, of 110 Cottage Street in Jersey City, collided with another car, resulting in six injured people. One of the injured was Evelyn Ladd, 52, of the same address listed for Walter Ruby.

This article has been a continuing mystery. Perhaps it is a different Walter Ruby, though the age is about right. If it is our Walter, why does he have an address in Jersey City? I had came to the conclusion at that time that the reporter had made an error and gave the Cottage Street address for Ruby, particularly since I had interpreted the article as suggesting that Mrs. Ladd had been a passenger in the other car. My explanation was that our Walter was passing through Jersey City, perhaps on business, had an unfortunate accident, and that the news report was mistaken about his address.

So today I am looking at census records available at Earlier I already described the 1930 census record for the Ruby household at 685 West End Ave. Now pops up another 1930 census record for a Walter Ruby, listed as a boarder in a Jersey City household with Edmund and Evelyn Ladd.

This is six years before the accident at a different Jersey City address, but obviously if Walter Ruby were a boarder with Evelyn Ladd in 1930, the same Mrs. Ladd must have been in his car in the accident. So my explanation about the mistaken address is not correct. The obvious explanation is that it is a different Walter Ruby.

The one thing that continues to raise an eyebrow is that the Jersey City Ruby lists his industry as "jobber," the exact term listed for the West End Ave. Ruby. Is there any possibility that our Walter conducted business in Jersey City and kept a room there for occasional times that he needed to sleep over? If someone kept a part-time apartment in addition to his family home, is it possible he could have been counted twice in the 1930 census?

But there are a few more anomolies about the Jersey City listing. This Walter Ruby is listed as being 36 years old on April 30, 1930, which would have been correct for our Walter. However, he is listed as being unmarried. Also, it says he was born in New Jersey and that his mother and father were born in the U.S. Those facts are obviously wrong. Also, going back to the newspaper clipping, his correct age on the date of the accident would have been 42, not 41.

So what are we to make of this? Almost certainly we are looking at another Walter Ruby. I will go back into the records and see if I can document an earlier history for this other person. But we can't yet entirely rule out the possibility that our Walter Ruby kept an outside apartment in New Jersey for at least six years in the 1930s, and that if so he evidently fictionalized some details about his life despite using his real name.

I'm going to see if I can find anything else that would bring some clarity.

Recapping the corkscrew chronicle

Other than having posted an artsy image of the Walter Ruby Jim Crax corkscrew, I see that I never gave a full account of how I came to acquire that precious bit of family memorabilia. So I'll recap the start of it and then resume posting with more recent related developments.

In July 2013 I was having a lot of success finding images and resale transaction records for Ruby patent corkscrews, but so far had not had a solid lead on how to possibly acquire one. Then Google revealed that one had sold on eBay just three months earlier in April. Looking at the transaction record on eBay I found that it did not identify the buyer but that I could contact the seller. I wrote to him with my story and asking if he would identify the buyer. He did, and soon I was in touch with Robert Leopardi, who turned out to be an active collector and trader in vintage corkscrews.

Fortunately, Robert still had the piece and it was a duplicate of another in his collection, so he wrote that he would be willing to sell it to me but that he was traveling and needed to research other sales before setting a price. I also soon left on a trip and thus it took till the end of August to complete the transaction. Meanwhile, I also wrote to another collector, Josef L'Africain, who runs a blog about vintage corkscrews and had posted an item about a Knudsen corkscrew based on the Ruby patent.

This had fed my conviction that Knudsen had acquired the bottle opener design patent rights from my grandfather and then proceeded to manufacture and sell an updated version of the device. I wrote to Josef with questions and the gist of my patent-right transfer story. He got back promptly expressing interest but was also on a collecting trip in Europe. He said he would look into it later, but I didn't push him on it till some months later.

Robert got back with information on comparable sales in the range of $125-$225, and thus set his price at the midpoint, or $175. I probably could have asked him to go lower but I was more excited about owning the object. I didn't object to him making a nice profit on his earlier purchase. He had done me a service by buying it and holding it for me for a few months. I accepted his offer and made arrangements for payment and shipping. I'll describe my reactions upon receiving it in the next post.


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