1975 - Jean Ring Key Ring Company Is Born
The Jean Ring key ring was invented by Marc Weinstein while designing a metal sculpture at his "Marc Creates" metal sculpture company located in St. Louis, Missouri. In the beginning, the key ring was called the Marc Twist. Buddy Lerman came up with the idea to market it under the name Jean Ring, showing the key ring hanging on the belt loop of a pair of jeans, as the key ring is commonly worn.

At that time, Jean Ring World Headquarters was at 1956 North Broadway in St. Louis, Missouri. If you go there today, in front of the building, embedded in the concrete sidewalk is a Jean Ring key ring. Since 1982, Jean Ring World Headquarters has been located at 347 Dinsmoor Drive in Chesterfield, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis). There is a Jean Ring key ring embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Chesterfield location of Jean Ring World Headquarters, as well.

How they are made
The first Jean Rings key rings were twisted by hand. Hand forged on an anvil, these "original" Jean Rings are true collectors items. The way to identify them is the logo "Marc Creates" will be stamped on one end. Due to the logo stamp, you can only get keys off on one side of the key ring. Also, there is no accompanying tag hanging from the Jean Ring key ring. (The actual originals had no "original" tag.) The "Original Jean Ring" accompanying tag was introduced in the late 1980s.

Today, Jean Ring key rings are made in the Midwest on a "fore-slide" machine.

Back in the 1970s when we first started mass shipping the Jean Ring key rings to ocean-side areas, they started to turn green because of the salt air. In the beginning, we would polish them down to the bare metal by turning them in two huge cement mixers. (Over one thousand Jean Rings clattering around would drive anyone crazy.) The bare metal exposed to the elements was why they were turning green so quickly. So, we started putting a protective coating of lacquer on the Jean Rings, which has been done since the late 1970s.

The Jean Ring key ring comfortably holds 32 keys. If you put more than 32 on it, it voids your warranty. No more than 32 keys. 32 maximum!

How they were displayed for sale
The Jean Ring key rings were displayed for sale hanging from wooden rods attached to a rough sewn cedar board. The name "Jean Ring" would be branded into the board with a branding iron. We also had an actual belt-loop from a pair of jeans nailed to the board and a Jean Ring key ring hanging from it. This rough cedar board became our trademark.

At Jean Ring world headquarters, we used a branding iron heated with a salamander to brand the name "Jean Ring" into the boards. The only problem was the smoke from the burning salamander was coming out of our building and smoking up interstate 270 and disrupting traffic. That's when we started branding the boards at night. But the gas bills were through the roof. So we purchased two electric branding irons from Eveready in Chicago. Good-bye and good-luck, we branded forever.

During that time we were making other key rings like: Gravity Hook, Brand X, De-loop, and Butterfly. We stopped making these models because when they were for sale along side the Jean Ring key rings, the Jean Rings would sell out first and then the other ones would still be on the display. The stores wouldn't re-order any of the key rings because they had non-Jean Ring key rings left over. This was 27 years ago and these displays are still out there. You may have seen them at a Flea Market. Yes, a good Flea Market product.

Jean Ring Warranty: Lifetime Guarantee. Solid Brass.
Guaranteed not to break or wear out for life. Chrome finish only guaranteed for 90 years.

Because the Jean Ring key rings have a lifetime guarantee, we honor this guarantee times two. We have received four Jean Rings back in 27 years. Because we stand behind our guarantee, we cheerfully replace the customer's Jean Ring key ring with not one, but two Jean Rings. The Jean Rings that were returned looked like a train had hit them.

We replace the broken Jean Ring with two, when they are returned. Some people call and tell me their Jean Ring key ring broke, but when they find out they must return their "broken" Jean Ring key ring, most do not want to part with their Jean Ring, even to take advantage of the warranty. I have only received four in 27 years, that's good quality, bad for repeat business.

The Jean Ring key ring has been sold, locally-in the Saint Louis area, nationally and internationally. Over 3 million have been sold in 27 years.

In the beginning, they were sold nationally at Target, Wal-Mart, Venture, Spectrum Head Shops, Off the Cuff jean stores, Stockade jean stores, and Colonel Day's jean stores. People that worked at Colonel Days are still wearing their Jean Ring key rings 20 years later. That's the problem with it. It never wears out or breaks!

Jean Ring Promotions:
Taxi Cab Promotion, circa 1976
The Hooker Sun Visor promotion #6
I had a friend who was the proud co-owner of the Jean Ring company. He and I brain stormed together. Needless to say, he left the company and went on to become a millionaire (coincidence?).

Our Plan: Take a dozen Jean Rings on a cardboard board and slip it over the sun visor in a cab. This was a national promotion. A national promotion from the Statler Hotel in Houston, Texas to the Astro Dome, roughly 50 times back in forth. We would get in one cab and ask the cabby if he owned his own cab. If he did, then we would tell him to pull over and leave the meter running.

The Promotion: We told the cabbies, "Take this card that says 'Hooker, found in better taxi cabs.' Put it on your sun visor. When you put on the meter as the fare gets in, put down your sun visor and there's the advertisement, 'Hooker, found in better taxi cabs,' plus a dozen Jean Rings ready to sell. Here's a case of them and I don't want any money- it's just a test. Whatever you make, you keep. Here's an order pad. Give me your name and number and if you need more and it's working for you-again keep your own money that you make on this-give me a call for orders."

I did this 50 times. It took a whole weekend running to the Astro Dome and the Statler Hotel back and forth in a cab. Total cab fares were about $250. Some cabbies were so excited that they wouldn't even charge me.

We didn't receive any orders in the next month, so I decided to call them to find out what's going on. Ever try to get a cab driver on the phone? Never did talk to any of them. End of deal. If I went down there again to talk to the cabbies personally, where are you going to find that one cab? You can't get them on the phone, this was prior to cell phones. We had the sun visor cards made professionally and we figured our failure was putting "Hooker" on them instead of "Jean Ring" because cabs were trying to play down the hooker routine.

So we sent Barry Goldberg up to Chicago to do a test up there because there are a lot more cabs in Chicago. We had since changed the name from "Hooker" to "Jean Ring." But that didn't mean borscht. That didn't work either.

Commercial on Channel 11, St. Louis, Missouri, circa 1976
The commercial was in 1976 with my kids on local Channel 11. It sold 200 to 300 Jean Rings. The cost was prohibitive.
Veiw the commercial here.

Coca-Cola Distributorship Promotion, circa 1978:
Some guys at a Coca-Cola distributorship in St. Louis, Missouri wanted to market the Jean Ring key ring with the likeness of a Coca-Cola bottle hanging from it. What they did was try to charge the public $5.00 a piece for a key ring we were selling for $3.00. But it did have a brass Coca-Cola bottle on it.

We had permission from Coca-Cola to do this, in writing. They were supposed to merchandise them as a free Jean Ring key ring with every case of Coca-Cola sold at quick shops. They didn't. They put them up for sale on a display board. We made 25,000 Coca-Cola bottle tags and put them on 25,000 Jean Ring key rings and shipped them off with displays to 200 quick shops for a guaranteed sale. A few were sold. We got back about 24,860.

Now Coca-Cola wants their money back. Norman had them sign for them when they were shipped originally, thus agreeing that they would pay for them. And they did finally pay. After they paid, we took the displays with the Jean Ring key rings with Coke tags back over to the distributorship. So there is still roughly 24,860 Jean Rings at the Coca-Cola distributor in Maryland Heights, Missouri. Every time I see a Coca-Cola driver I ask him about the key rings and they say they are still in the warehouse. I'm told they give them away on promotions to their employees, sometimes.

McCall's Magazine, circa 1978
McCall's Magazine decided to editorialize the Jean Ring key ring. We sold 14,000 key rings through this article. This was great, because an advertisement in McCall's Magazine was about $14,000 at the time.

John Van Nurcle, III World Distribution, circa 1979
The Foriegn Poster Promotion:
John Van Nurcle, III was a heavy hitter from Holland. He wanted to promote the Jean Ring key ring overseas, to the world. We met one of his representatives from Holland at a gift show in the United States. We said we would consider giving him part of Europe, the co-owner of the company at that time, ended up giving him the world.

Van Nurcle printed up his own posters in Dutch, German, and French. All the posters had pictures of women holding Jean Ring key rings and with the key rings on their belt loops. He used a model that had a burn on her hand (like she burned herself on the stove), to sell our key ring, and that wasn't too professional (maybe this was why it failed?).

Van Nurcle bought 200,000 Jean Rings up front. He promoted them in Europe and was kind of cagey about the whole deal. We thought he was going to knock us off and come up with his own Jean Ring key ring. He didn't do that, he didn't sell them, and he wanted his money back.

JC Penney Plain Pockets Jeans, circa 1979
6th Ave NY City, I spoke to the buyer of jeans at JC Penney. I explained to him that they needed a new gimmick, enough with the Plain Pockets advertising. Basically JC Penney was knocking off Levi's, the same plain pockets, but with a cheaper price. I said, "You've got to give them a new schtick. You give them a Jean Ring key ring with every pair of Plain Pockets sold."

They said, "How much?" I asked him, "How many Jeans do you sell in a year?" He said, "10 million." That's when I said, "10% over what they cost us."

If they sold 10 million and I make a dime a piece, that's a million dollars. He told me it sounded great. Especially when I told him if they are selling 10 million now, isn't it safe to say that with a Jean Ring on them they will sell 15 million? They loved it. They said that they were going to take it to committee and they would get back to me with a purchase order. Sounds good. I'm jumping off hoods of cars on 6th Avenue after I left JC Penney, I was so excited. I figure I'm an instant millionaire, right? Wrong.

For one year I got routing instructions, warehouse distribution, everywhere they had to go. Everything but a purchase order. This went on for roughly two years and I never made one penny from JC Penney with plain pockets. But I still kept getting routing instructions and warehousing information…

Chrome Jean Ring key ring. 1979
We had no response in 1979 to my idea to "chrome" the Jean Ring. Now chrome is in and I'm getting a response to the chrome Jean Ring. So we are now cranking up the factory to make them.

Wrangler Jeans, circa 1980
They had a new project. Wrangler wanted to promote Jean Ring key rings on the jeans like JC Penney was going to do with the plain pockets. They needed a logo for the new brand they were going to market. So, we got their new logo and stamped it into a piece of brass, for a tag, to hang off the brass Jean Ring key ring.

Well for some reason it got screwed up and the logo for the new jeans looked like two cheeks of a tush. It was a perfect tush, it wasn't flat, it was rounded and stamped into a piece of metal. It was a mistake, stampings are usually flat, but when they stamped it, the tushey came out. Everybody, including the person from Wrangler said, "Leave it the way it is, it looks great!"

Again, I got routing instructions, vending numbers and warehousing. Long story short, I'm sitting with10,000 of these tags with a tushey on them and no where to go.

Barbershop and Beauty Supply, circa 1982
Barry Goldberg sold 100,000 Jean Ring key ring displays to the Barber and Beauty Shop industry on a "guaranteed sale," which means they had 60 days to pay for them. If they didn't sell they could send them back. On 100,000 we ended up getting 80,000 of them back. But we sold 20,000, which was good. We made money. The barbershop and Beauty Supply industry is a grand group.

The Jean Ring meets the "Brockabrella", circa early 1980s
The Jean Ring key ring shared a table with Lou Brock (former Cardinals Baseball Great) at a gift show in the early 1980s. Lou Brock was selling his "Brockabrella" - a hat with an umbrella on it. I credit Lou Brock with helping put the Jean Ring company where it is today. He helped sell my Jean Ring key rings. He was really nice.

Japanese Promotion, circa 1989.
During gift shows, samples of the Jean Ring key ring would be distributed. A Japanese man received a sample and contacted his Los Angeles representative, who then contacted the Jean Ring company. Three Japanese men came to Jean Ring world headquarters in St. Louis, only one of the three spoke English. There were thoughts that the Japanese might knock them off. They liked imported American items and our American jeans are quite expensive over there. They never knocked them off and we sold around 80,000 to the Japanese.

Matchbook Incident, circa 1990
A book of matches printed up with Jean Ring on the front. "Lifetime Guarantee" on the crease. On the other side it read, "I had one in High School." With a coupon on the inside, mail in $3.95 to this address.

I printed up 25,000 books of matches for and original investment of $1,000. I had visions of selling so many of them that I was ready to buy a panel truck to pick up the mail at the post office.

Cigarette vending machine companies throughout the Midwest distributed them. They were free to the vending company. The company took them and offered them to their customers because they needed matches. I had visions of making millions because with a book of matches you've got people's attention 20 times since each book contains 20 matches. And if someone takes the matchbook and only uses 10 matches, and they pass it to someone else, then you've got 2 people's attention with one book of matches. But, this was back when matches were on the down side, because smoking was starting to be not that o.k.

So they are all distributed and I've got them all out there. I'm waiting for results at my post office box. After about 5 days I go to check my post office box and there's nothing in there. A couple of days later I go back and ask one of the postal workers. I know I've probably got so many that they have them in a mail bag somewhere because they couldn't possibly get them all in the box. The guy came back to me and says "negative, none." Six months later I had none. And then I got my first order: two Jean Rings from Florida. That was the last order I got off my matchbook promotion, ever. I received one order of two Jean Rings with a net profit of $6.00. With an original investment of $1,000, that means I cut my losses to $994.

VP Fair in St. Louis, circa 1991
The VP Fair is a huge Fourth of July celebration under the St. Louis Arch-it has since been re-named "Fair Saint Louis." We rented a booth to sell Jean Ring key rings. Out of the 3-day event, it rained for 2 days. We sold quite a few on the first day - the only day it didn't rain.

Prison Promotion, circa 1993
Jefferson City, Missouri
I had a friend who went to prison for violating his probation. I sent him a box of Jean Ring key rings and told him he could be our jail house distributor. I figured they had a gift shop there and he could keep the gift shop supplied. I got a letter back from the warden along with the Jean Rings. The letter said, "Dear Sir, our prisoners do not have keys. Besides, they could file these key rings down and make weapons out of them …"

New Strategy: Lucite display, circa 1993
New, modern display for Jean Ring key rings made out of Lucite (clear plastic). The Lucite was more expensive than the rough cedar, so I invested about $1,000 in the new, modern displays. Everyone wanted the cedar display.