Sawyer's and GAF. 4 View-Master viewers (various), including one early viewer by Sawyer's. With approx. 73 reels. It sold for $256 during an auction in March of 2014. (Photo courtesy Auction Team Breker)

Sawyer's and GAF. 4 View-Master viewers (various), including one early viewer by Sawyer's. With approximately 73 reels. It sold for $256 during an auction in March of 2014.

Initially designed for sale in camera, drug and gift stores, View-Master production dates to 1939. View-Master reels were introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and at the 1940 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. From there, the line of titles grew to include a host of scenic attractions featuring everything from Crater Lake, Oregon, to Miami Beach, Florida.

Soldiers Turn to View-Master

In the early 1940s, film and paper were scarce, and View-Master production nearly came to a halt, due to the onset of World War II. However, a large contract to produce airplane and ship identification and range estimation reels saved the product from potential oblivion. Millions of reels were in use by GIs, along with thousands of Model B (round) View-Master viewers.

Although scenic reels were View-Master’s forte, the company spread out a bit in the late 1940s with the inclusion of a series of children’s fairy-tale reels. These single-sleeved reels bore the identifying prefix “FT.” Clay figure models were initially a creation of Lee Green Studios in Hollywood and later at the View-Master art studios in Portland, Oregon. Dozens of reel titles came to be using the great diorama effect created by tabletop photography.

A vintage Bakelite View-Waster.

A bakelite View-Master with reel and promotional material promising pictures that "come to life."

Acquisition Earns Access to Disney 

Keeping ahead of the competition, View-Master purchased the assets of its main rival, Tru-Vue, in 1951. This acquisition resulted in obtaining the license to use Disney characters, previously held by Tru-Vue. Since that time, the company has produced many Disney and other cartoon and character favorites. Some of these were as clay figures, others as stereo cells, and still, others use actual products in the reel set up, as was the case with Barbie and G.I. Joe.

All reels since the company began are viewable in any viewer. Newer reels from the last few years have a colorful sticker over the center hole but still, work in any viewer. In 2003, Fisher-Price came forth with a new viewer where the reel enters horizontally rather than vertically, but that design was the subject of a dismiss.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, View-Master brought forth character viewers (Mickey Mouse, Big Bird, Batman, Casper, etc), but these were short-lived and abandoned in favor of colorful versions of regular production viewers. Today viewers and reels are produced by Basic Fun under an agreement with Fisher-Price. There is a wide variety of gift sets and reels with colorful graphics. Some of the new titles include Minions, Star Wars, Hello Kitty and an NYC Taxi viewer. These new titles can be found online and in many retail stores.

View-Master viewer

A model G View-Master viewer from the last years of the Sawyer's era.

View on pricing

Condition determines value. As with any other paper collectible, it is important that View-Master reels be free of mold, mildew, brown foxing spots, etc. Reels missing scenes are virtually worthless. Those reels with paper blisters (a result of heat/moisture) are valued at less than 1/4 of mint reels. Three-reel packets need to be complete with outer color envelope, three reels, and inner story booklet if indicated. Any part of the packet or booklet that is torn or damaged drops the value of the set. Adjust prices accordingly. Prices shown here are for MIP—Mint in Package—examples. Those in excellent condition command about 85 percent of the MIP price.

View-Master 1970s.

1970s era Model G two-tone viewer in red and white.

Collecting trends

Sci-Fi and television and movie titles tend to sell high—scenic and cartoon titles are a little lower than in previous years. Some images on the reels have “gone magenta,” meaning the film has turned red. This is a result of the type of film used. Usually, all issues of that packet are red. One good example is the clay figure packet of Dracula. It is important to note this problem when considering condition.

Since the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, “Thriller” reels and gift sets have started demanding high prices with the gift sets selling for $50 or more.

Enjoy a vintage commercial for View-Master...

Collector groups

At present, there are no collector groups solely devoting their effort to View-Master; however, there is a national organization focusing on 3-D collectibles. This is the National Stereoscopic Association [NSA,]. Every year the NSA hosts an annual convention and many View-Master products can be found at these events.

This article originally appeared in the 20th Edition of Toys & Prices by Mark Bellomo 

Recent eBay View-Master sales

Prices are set to the nearest dollar and is without shipping.

• Rose Festival, Portland, Oregon, View-Master 3-reel packet, A251 $69

• KISS Rock & Roll View-Master 3-reel packet, K71 $69

• Movie preview reel: Sangaree, Paramount Pictures 1953, starring Fernando Lamas & Arlene Dahl $72

View-Master projector

With stage, wings and backdrop, projector, nine little discs, illustrated envelopes. Each movie comes with an illustrated leaflet in French edition, sold for $223 through Little Nemo Auction House in 2013.

• Instructional Surfing, 1971, 3-reel View-Master packet, B955 $59

• Six Gun Territory, Ocala, Florida, 3-reel View-Master packet, A977 $49

• The Munsters View-Master 3-reel packet, B481 $50

• Milano Italy View-Master 3-reel packet, C060I $46

• Carowinds North Carolina/South Carolina View-Master 3-reel packet, A894

• Winchester Mystery House & San Jose View-Master 3-reel packet, A220

• The Addams Family View-Master 3-reel packet, B486 $41

• Dracula, 1976, View-Master 3-reel packet, B324 $38

• Phoenix, Arizona, View-Master 3-reel packet, A366 $39

• Seattle World’s Fair 1962 View-Master 3-reel packet, A273 $39

• World of Liddle Kiddles Dolls View-Master 3-reel packet, B577 $38

• Isis TV series, 1976, View-Master 3-reel packet, sealed, T100 $29

• Sigmund and the Sea Monsters TV series, 1974, View-Master 3-reel packet, B595 $26

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