Sunday, July 17, 2011

A New Generation of View-Master Fans...

Logan and his best friend/girlfriend/daughter-of-my-neighbor Maddie who comes to visit her dad...and Logan...on the boys' weekend. They used some of my View-Master collection of viewers and reels, including my one light-up viewer, for a few minutes; it was too rainy to go outside. Logan wanted me to get out my View-Master wall projector viewer, but it and some of the reels are boxed up. Of course, once the camera came out, so did the goofy faces... He is 8 and she 9; it is great that another generation has been introduced to the great toy.

Before there were dvds, or videotapes; before there was cable; there was the View-Master viewer and reels! For an ordinary television show, the odds are today that it is out on home video if it was a View-Master subject: Happy Days, Star Trek, Lost in Space....although some haven't been released yet for various reasons---Batman, for example. Lots of movies and cartoons, too---Bugs Bunny in "Big Top Bunny", or Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But a lot of the entertainment ones were special dioramas made for the producers of the reels: I have a few Peanuts stories in diorama, and some with The Flintstones; there's also a version of Disney's Peter Pan in diorama, too--but the characters look like those from the film. Even toys made the leap: there exists at least one story of G.I. Joe in 12-inch size, and numerous Barbie stories, all in diorama format.

The early years were dominated by travel reels: trips to US cities, National Parks and Monuments, major tourist attractions like zoos, and places in Europe and scattered around the rest of the world. In fact, the first reels were exclusively these kinds of subject--Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon were prominent when the product was first introduced as an alternative to the scenic postcard sold in gift shops, stationery stores, and photographic shops.  The first ones were sold at the New York World's Fair of 1939. Later, in 1951, Sawyer's (the original maker, based here in Portland) acquired Tru-Vue, who had a filmstrip style of viewer---and more importantly, the Disney license. Soon, Disney cartoons, movies, and television shows, as well as their theme parks, propelled the View-Master line into the national conscience. More entertainment products joined the lineup.

In 1966, GAF (General Aniline & Film) Corporation bought out Sawyer's, and they shifted the product line to more toys and cartoons. Henry Fonda appeared in television commercials for them. In 1971, they introduced the Talking View-Master and talking reels.

After a few ownership changes, in 1987, they bought out Ideal Toys. Two years later, Tyco Toys bought them out. Things stayed this way until 1997, when Mattel bought out Tyco and shifted the View-Master line over to its Fisher-Price subsidiary. A sad day came in 1989 when Fisher-Price announced they weren't going to make any more of the scenic reels, only entertainment ones. Another company was supposed to have signed a contract to make scenic reels, Alpha-Cine, but I don't know if they ever did. I'd love to find out, though.

Many specialized reels were created over the years: airplane- and ship-identification-spotting reels for the US military during World War II; a 25-volume atlas of human anatomy; Discovery Channel animals and dinosaurs; movie previews of some Westerns and some 3D films, since the current trailers wouldn't really show 3D to any advantage; many reels for companies to use as promotional tools; personal reels; reels for the Rose Court, accompanying Portland's annual Rose Festival; and even personal reels that people shot with the 3D cameras that they sold. These rarer ones, along with variant reels and scarcely produced ones and older reels in general, tend to be more valuable.

I had a good-sized collection when I was a kid, and acquired my sister's when she grew out of them. As an adult, I eventually started collecting more, and picked up several different reels, canister sets, and even a projector at estate sales; and I got a couple of packets off eBay as well. In the last few years, I've introduced them to my sons Griffin, who is now 12,  and Logan (and Logan's friend Maddie). They don't have a long enough attention span for it in this era of video games and fast-paced films, but at least they have looked at them. I love sharing these classics with them!

Heck, I love View-Master products!


  1. I've been looking for the older ones from the 1940's and 50's when I go to doll shows and flea markets. I especially like the travel ones, because those are now like a window back through time. The images I have of Las Vegas include casinos that aren't there anymore. And some of the "off-the-beaten-track" reels are an absolute hoot to look at, showing all the touristy places people used to visit back then, like the Catawba "Blue Hole" in Ohio. Great fun to look at. Right now I'm exploring the best way to clean the little film pieces, and I'm being told by experts to use film cleaner you can buy at camera shops, and to clean only the shiny side, NOT the side with the emulsion on it. Cleaning or rubbing the emulsion may cause it to flask off. ACK! I DON'T want to do THAT!

  2. Glad they aren't forgotten. Viewmasters are being treated so much like vintage now, and I don't get it. The 3D films are practically Viewmaster in quality and trait. Sure, they can't run pictures at 24 frames per second, but maybe this is a sign that we should start looking at moving images from a different vantage, and perhaps get viewmasters built around that angle. That would really be a new way of seeing things on-screen. What's to stop us?