A Perspective on History

In 1939, View-Master was first introduced at the New York World's Fair. Intended as a souvenir, it was originally marketed through photo shops and stationary stores. Through the years, the product has changed its appearance to be aimed at a more juvenile audience. However, the high quality of View-Master is still evidenced today by their continuing quest to produce a quality product and the company's on-going efforts to introduce a large number of new reels each year.

William Gruber, an organ maker who lived in Portland, Oregon, invented the View-Master. One day, while visiting Oregon Caves, he met Harold Graves, the president of Sawyer's, Inc. (a company that specialized in picture post cards). Magic happened. Mr. Graves was amazed at Mr. Gruber's invention and, together, they created the successful company that exists today.

During the 1940's and 50's, the company mainly produced reels of various national parks and scenic attractions across the country. Between 1942 and the end of World War II View-Master was kept busy producing millions of reels for the U.S. Government that aided the military in airplane/ship identification and range estimation.

In 1951 View-Master acquired their competitor the Tru-Vue Company of Rock Island, III. This was a gold mine for View-Master because Tru-Vue held the license to use Disney characters. From that time on View-Master was able to produce reels for both the adult and children's market.

Several board games utilizing View-Master reels have been developed over the years. Many styles and colors of viewers have also been marketed since the product's inception in 1939. The early round Model A and Model B viewers are available but becoming a bit more difficult to locate. The black bakelite Model C viewer is, has been and always will be near indestructible and can be found at nearly every flea market and antique shop. Later viewers are also commonly found by today's collector. All reels fit in every viewer produced by the company throughout the years.

View-Master has undergone ownership changes over the years and was acquired most recently by Fisher Price. Fisher Price now includes View-Master as a regular part of their annual catalog and makes all of the decisions regarding new product releases.

From Niagara Falls to Mickey Mouse, The Apollo Landing to Tom Corbett Space Cadet, many subjects have become popular View-Master reels. This article deals with one aspect of View-Master:

View-Master Goes Hollywood

Ever since the early 1950's, View-Master has embraced popular movies and television shows. Beginning with Captain Kangaroo, Pinky Lee and the original Mousketeers, View-Master went on to photograph such screen idols as Roy Rogers, Flipper, The Monkees, Grizzley Adams, E.T. and the blockbuster movie hit Jurassic Park.

An extensive market research/licensing effort is put together in order to produce a single subject onto View-Master reels. Many planned packets never get produced because of a breakdown in this process. Two examples of packets planned by View-Master but never released are Wells Fargo (1950's era) and All In the Family (1970's era.) Of recent history, View-Master planned an on-site photo shoot for the second Batman movie-Batman Returns. However, at the last minute the set was closed to outside photographers. The packet that resulted was a composite of computer imagery with flat photos provided by the studio.

The marriage of computers with animation drawing has also taking place at View-Master. Most of the work on the packet of Disney's Aladdin was produced on the company's computer systems. The animation cels now in use have their character lines hand drawn. That image is then fed into the computer. All of the actual painting is done through the computer system. The result is that twice as much work can be produced in less than half the time with the same result. (We understand similar techniques have become routine at the major cartoon studios as well).

View-Master continues to find new ways to make old stories come to life. Originally, packets like Cinderella and Snow White were made up of tabletop photography consisting of clay models posed in various positions using unique backgrounds in order to depict the desired scene. This process was used until View-Master acquired the Disney rights (giving them permission to use cel-style stereo drawings). From that time on, the characters took on more and more of the Disney studio's appearance. The process of converting these classic reels into the animated format is now complete.

Disney's magic and View-Master's 3-D magic have combined very well over the years. From the 1950's release of the Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers, to Disney's live action 101 Dalmations movie, successful reels have been produced by the millions. Along the way, each step is carefully reviewed by the Disney Studios to assure that the View-Master product produced satisfies the famous Disney quality control standards.

Roy Rogers and other cowboy stars were popular subjects during the heyday of the Westerns in the 1950's. Packets of both Roy, and his wife, Dale Evans were produced and single reels were made of Hopalong Cassidy and The Cisco Kid. Other western stars like Buffalo Bill Jr., The Lone Ranger, Zorro and Rin-Tin-Tin were released as 3-reel packets.

In the 1960's many of the classic TV "cult" shows were depicted on View-Master reels. Dark Shadows, Lost in Space, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Time Tunnel and The Green Hornet were some popular shows of this era and are eagerly sought after by collectors today.

Some little known TV shows were also made into View-Master packets. The Smith Family (with Henry Fonda), Korg 70,000 B.C., Apple's Way, Julia and Isis are a few of the "not-so-memorable" shows that made their way into the View-Master line.

Movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Poseidon Adventure and The Black Hole have been depicted on reels. Most of the Disney movies like Mary Poppins, The $1,000,000 Duck and Bedknobs & Broomsticks have also enjoyed their success via View-Master.

1990 titles included TV shows like Full House, Family Matters and the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (which involved a 30-day on location shoot with the crew in Africa). Movie successes such as The Rocketeer, Batman and Jurassic Park were made and sold well.

These titles are actively sought after because of the ever-growing interest in character collectibles. Many space and sci-fi collectors look for the TV space shows and sci-fi movie packets. Others look for the superhero reels. This is also a large amount of cross-over collecting by people who actively seek a single subject title only and not necessarily general View-Master collectors.

Some of the most popular reels eagerly sought by View-Master collectors are the movie preview reels. During the 1950's, 3-D movies were big hits at the box office. Wearing those "funny little glasses" at the theater was in vogue. In cooperation with National Screen Service, special lobby viewer displays were set up and used in conjunction with releases of new 3D films. Twenty-nine different films were depicted on View-Master reels. House of Wax (Vincent Price), They Called Him Hondo (John Wayne), and It Came From Outer Space were a few of the titles portrayed.

View-Master collecting has grown quite a lot in recent years. Twenty years ago, most reels were 10-25c each. Although many scenic reels still sell for less than $1.00, a movie preview reel for the 1950s movie House of Wax recently sold for over $300! Because many reels are still sold cheaply, common titles are easy to obtain.

The most important thing to look for when purchasing a View-Master item is the condition of the reel. Missing pictures make the reel worthless and damaged reels are of little interest to most collectors. Three-reel packets should be double checked to make sure that all three- reels are inside along with the booklet. The packet will be marked if a booklet was issued. Also, the outer color envelope should be complete with all four flaps and with no visible damage.

Blister packs should be in like-new condition to be considered collectible . Damaged hangholes and ripped off price stickers lower the value of these items a great deal.

Collecting View-Master will never grow old because new titles are continually being added. So many different subjects and titles have been made over the years that an "oddity" is liable to pop up anytime, anyplace. It is unlikely that anyone will ever own a complete collection of titles because such a diverse selection of titles and packaging exists.

Even more exciting is the fact that you can begin a View-Master collection today by walking into your local Target or Toys-R-Us. Where you go with it from there is up to you. We encourage everyone to dig out that old viewer that may be sitting up in the attic collecting dust or, if you don't have one about, visit your local toy store and take a new look at this old favorite. We're sure you'll be pleasantly surprised.