Iâ€™ve had several people reach out to me recently to talk to me about View-Master collecting. Weird for multiple reasons not the least of which is that I could point you in the direction of several people who are much more dedicated to View-Master collecting than I am.
I liked View-Master as a kid because it dovetailed nicely with my love of movies, TV, and escapism in general. Iâ€™ve always loved visual media. I have a degree in film studies, and Iâ€™ve always loved picking things apart. I didnâ€™t know this was called semiotics when I first started doing it, but I guess thatâ€™s a big piece of what I liked about View-Master.
Other things I like about it include seeing things I normally wouldnâ€™t or couldnâ€™t see, playing with a mid-century novelty device, getting to peek into the past, picking apart and considering the images and their composition and meaning, as well as the deviceâ€™s overall connection to pop culture over many decades. I also have this pretty sweet spreadsheet I get to work on whenever I get new reels, and that is deeply satisfying.
There are also individual reels and recurring themes I enjoy. That list includes flaming dolphins, weird dioramas, great dioramas, sad animals in zoos, images of countries Iâ€™ve never visited (often from the 1940s), the delightfully crazy way people once bored holes into ancient trees just for the novelty, the way folks could touch all the walls on a cave tour and didnâ€™t even care they were ruining it for future generations, and the way white ladies sit overdressed and contemplative while staring at a landscape, to name a few.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that View-Master is a particularly upper middle class and white thing. I don’t think I’m qualified to do that topic justice but it’s important to acknowledge it, I think. Reels and viewers have never been expensive so they weren’t intended for the wealthy, but the images presented in the reels, by and large, offers a glimpse into the destinations of wealthy or worldly white people on vacation at mid-century. I’m not sure if I found it relatable or aspirational when I first started collecting. I didn’t grow up taking vacations regularly. We did little road trips and saw lots of interesting landscapes along the way, however.
One thing I always liked about View-Master, once I began learning about it, was that the creator thought of it as a way to bring the world to everyone. I liked that idea very much. And it’s something I always think about when I see a reel on a topic I haven’t seen before. I liked that they have reels on the history of Chinese art, on how to identify a variety of mushroom types, and that it was used as a tool to teach pilots.
I like it because I still think it’s a tool and a toy that teaches me new things all the time.