It would be nifty to see it wall-mounted, as the ad describes, though it doesn't seem it would make much sense for it to be ceiling-mounted.
I did a quick search to see if these exist on the secondhand market, and found a photo of one in this Ithaca classified.
One thing I couldn't figure out was how to lock it in place. These are presumably meant to hold hardware, which can be heavy, and a bin loaded up with carriage bolts is going to be a lot heavier than one loaded with wood screws and gravity would have its way. But then I found this one on eBay:
In the photo below we can see a wingnut on the end of one axis. The user presumably used this to lock it in position.
We can also see that at some point, two of the bins went missing or became damaged, and a previous owner replaced them with pine or fir dividers attached to hulls made from what looks to be veneer. (At first I thought they were sheet metal, but you can see grain.)
The 1948 ad up top indicates it's designed for hobbyists. But this much older wooden version that I also found on eBay, dated 1882, is labeled as belonging to a hardware store.
There's no guarantee it is, of course, but the fact that it's patented and the organized numerical markings would indicate it was.
As for how it works, here we can see that knobs A are used to rotate it, while lever B locks it into place, presumably by registering an unseen protrusion into slots C.
I do wonder what it held. It seems obvious they were fasteners, with the first number indicating the fastener's length; you'll notice the first number for each bin corresponds with the distance between the dividers (i.e. the dividers get further apart from the "1 1/2" row to the "1 3/4" row and so on).
I figured the second number indicated the screw size number that we use today to indicate diameters (i.e. a #8 screw is 0.164" in diameter, a #10 screw is 0.19" in diameter and so on). So that the section saying "1 3/4 - 9" would contain #9 screws that were 1 3/4" long.
However, something didn't sit right here so I looked it up. While the case is clearly branded "1882," ASME—the American Society of Mechanical Engineers—didn't standardize screw dimensions until 1907, some 25 years after this case was patented. (Prior to that manufacturers used whatever dimensions they found convenient.) I suppose it's possible that the designers of this case just happened to be using the dimensions and numbering convention that ASME eventually adopted.
Anyways, here's the funny part. I spotted another of these cases on LiveAuctioneers.com:
It sold for $500 back in March of 2016. The one on the eBay listing above is currently selling for a whopping $6,400.
Then I realized, by comparing the photos: They're the exact same case.
I understand that the person who bought it for $500 had to pay for shipping and perhaps his/her own travel, but man, what a racket! That's almost a 1,300% markup!