Burton Rubin built one fortune on smoke. Now he is planning to build another one on fire.
Rubin made his mark as an entrepreneur in the 1970s with a product called E-Z Wider -- double-width cigarette papers that proved very popular among certain elements of the smoking public. In 1980, he sold that company to Rizla S.A. for $6.2 million. This time around, he hopes to repeat his success by hitching his wagon to a star, or rather a comet -- Halley's Comet, to be exact. The comet, which comes just once about every 75 years, will light up the sky in 1985. By then, Rubin intends to be lighting up cash registers with the Halleyscope, a telescope timed, and designed, for watching the famous astronomical event.
The telescope, due out this month, will retail for just under $200 and will offer various features particularly suited to comet-watching, such as zoom lenses and correct imaging. Rubin -- who will market the device through his newly formed Halley Optical Corp., in New York City -- says that there should be a brisk market for such comet accessories during the next couple of years. To bolster his argument, he has gathered nearly 100 newspaper clippings from 1910, the last time the blazing celestial body crossed the Earth's orbit.
"The madness started six months before the comet appeared," says Rubin. "There were 'comet cocktails' and 'comet parties.' "
Rubin expects the same hoopla this time. In particular, he predicts that the telescope market will triple between now and the time the comet trails off in mid-1986. That would certainly bode well for Rubin, who hopes to parlay the Halleyscope into a company with a full line of telescopes. "If there's any time to start a telescope company," he points out, "it's now."