I’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. I’ve always loved visual media. I have a degree in film studies, and I’ve always loved picking things apart. I didn’t know this was called semiotics when I first started doing it, but I guess that’s a big piece of what I liked about View-Master.
Other things I like about it include seeing things I normally wouldn’t or couldn’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 device’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 I’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 didn’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.
I haven’t updated with anything meaningful in forever.
So I was going through some photos and decided to post some pics from my trip to NYC with my boss last October. She won a super cool “top women in media award” and invited some of us from the office to go with her to pick it up.
We went for a walk from Grand Central to Times Square.
Later, I dragged my co-worker Tracy to the Empire State Building after dinner on the night we were there and it was pretty gorgeous!
I had the next morning to myself and wanted to go for a long walk on the Upper East Side because everything I know about the world I learned from TV, and I figured if Gossip Girl taught me anything it was how to navigate the Upper East Side. So I left my hotel, hailed a cab to the Starbucks closest to Blair Waldorf’s house (he drove me through Central Park to get there) and walked all the way back to Grand Central Station.
I read it and didn’t think much of it. I take issue with the very premise. Flint is kind of famous for its endless failures and always makes one of the top spots in every variation of the “America’s Most Dangerous Cities” lists that seem to come out several times a year from various news sources. We also have a fairly famous movie enshrining Flint’s endless failures–Roger & Me, of course.
I’ve rarely encountered people in the Midwest who’ve never heard of Flint, even if everything they’ve heard is bad (and it usually is).
The article I linked above made the rounds on Facebook as anything about Flint does among the locals and those of us who grew up there. And it sparked a lot of “but what about the resurgence” talk and a few people even made lists of their own, counting down their favorite things about the city.
I was struck by the simplicity of the lists, because they were the kinds of things anyone would say about a place they lived and liked and the lists basically boiled down to: I love some of the people here and I have a favorite restaurant and also there’s a lovely cultural scene (that is really a sub-culture as I know just as many people who don’t visit any of the city’s cultural amenities as I do those who do).
However, because we’re talking about Flint, there were a few things people liked about the city that sent a shiver up my spine and reminded me that I’m glad I left. Someone posted that they liked how “tough” Flint is, how it sharpens people because it’s a hard city to thrive in.
My husband and I have long-joked about the idea that Flint is “tough”, but it’s an aspect of life there that I don’t miss at all and, in fact, am very happy to not have to deal with anymore. Tough conditions harden people, make them distrustful, fearful, and angry. And the longer I’m away from the Flint the less hard I am, and the more grateful I am for the opportunities I have to be soft and vulnerable. Vulnerability is a skill I’m still learning to enjoy.
This is a very silly example but this past month my husband built a fun piece of “yard art”–a perfect replica of Snoopy’s Dog House from A Charlie Brown Christmas–and it includes items that could easily be stolen. And I wondered what, if anything, would be snatched from the dog house from our yard in suburban Chicago. So far, nothing has been stolen. Not even the silly First Prize ribbon we pinned to the side of it.
But when we went back to Flint for Christmas the topic of the dog house being stolen was brought up repeatedly. “You think it’ll be there when you get back?” “Anything missing from it yet?” Questions like that cropped up every time we talked about it with Flint-area friends and relatives.
When we got home? Everything was still there, even the First Prize pin. And I know it’s a small, silly thing–and much worse and more dangerous things are happening everywhere, all the time–but it’s the little things that remind me it’s a relief to not have to endlessly worry about battening down the hatches and securing what’s yours before somebody else takes it. The world doesn’t need to be as tough as it is in Flint and I’m glad that I don’t have to be anymore.
This is a little bit different and totally depressing, so I’d skip it if I were you:
I don’t hate Christmas. I just understand people who do. You see, I had a tiny pity party for myself in the Christmas wrapping paper aisle at Target earlier this month.
My parents and grandparents are dead, as are a few other key people from my childhood. I live in a different state than the one I grew up in and I don’t live within 30 minutes of dear friends let alone family. I have a stepbrother I never see (though I adore him) and I don’t have any kids of my own.
Mostly I’m fine with all of that (or at least at peace with it). I am very connected via technology and have lots of great friends that live all over the place that I regularly talk to. I’m not prone to pity parties, not really.
Generally speaking, I wouldn’t mention a tiny Target pity party from early in December. But sometimes I worry that I focus too much on the unpleasant memories of the people I’ve lost–it makes the grief easier to swallow. Mostly I try not to think too much about them because I fear the space where they used to be will become a sinkhole and I’ll lose myself in it.
But I know those are melodramatic thoughts, not true to life. In real life your father can die on the prettiest spring day you’ve ever seen, and the birds will just keep on singing. Life goes on. And the people I’ve lost each left their mark on me, helped formed who I am. I carry them with me in my head even when I’m not conscious of it.
Still I lingered over the glittering Christmas ornaments and silly knick knacks at Target, not thinking of much beyond my own house until I turned down the wrapping paper aisle. I had to stop short and beat a hasty retreat as I was briefly overwhelmed by feelings of grief.
I loved to pick out presents, agonizing over just the right gift, hoping it was the right fit, the perfect color, the gift that would make the person receiving it feel like I understood their style, their sense of humor, had phoned Santa directly and picked an item off their secret wish list (yes, I am an egomaniac).
But that was just the start because there is really nothing better than a gorgeously wrapped present! My mother was an exceptional gift wrapper. Picking out our wrapping paper was an annual tradition–it all had to match or complement. She loved foil wrapping with big bows and ribbons. One year we did all red foil with gold ribbons and bows and Christmas morning felt like an episode of Dynasty it was all so glamorous! And that was before we’d even opened the presents.
So I was flooded with all of these happy Christmas memories sparked by the wrapping paper aisle. My mother’s love of decorations and wrapping paper. My maternal grandmother’s tendency to be silly and crack us up at the Christmas dinner table–she once made little edible people out of the relish tray and happily made dirty jokes about pickles to scandalize my father’s mother! My father’s unbridled enthusiasm for a good Christmas dinner–we often had Cornish game hens, which were more fun than tasty if memory serves. His mother’s amazing cookies and breads and the piles and piles of food she’d make for just our immediate family on Christmas Eve. My grandfather carefully assembling a Barbie Dream Swimming Pool like it was as important as any project in his wood shop. And those thoughts made me happy but also terribly sad.
Sometimes the hardest thing about the happy memories is that I’m the only person alive to remember them.
So I’ve written two 50,000+ word manuscripts in the past year and I’m doing NaNoWriMo again in order to finish a third.
I took the first manuscript, a “new adult” angsty romance that I think mostly sucks, and set about editing it. I spent a month revising it, filling in missing pieces and making it into something that felt closer to a real book. I ended up with over 60,000 words and sent it to a friend for some feedback. Working in a vacuum sucks! So it will be good to get some feedback. Maybe it’s not as bad as I am convinced it is.
I started my second manuscript with a burst of creative energy after NaNoWriMo last year and then the world got in the way for a few months before I picked up it up again, determined to make fiction writing a habit. The second manuscript is maybe a little closer to my heart (the laws of the universe tell me this means that it’s either much better or much, much worse than the first one).
I’m working on five short romances built around a given place and theme for this year’s NaNoWriMo. It turns out I don’t like the pace of 1700-ish words a day. I am super happy with about 1,000. So I’m struggling with this fiction writing thing but not just with word count, which I’m sure I can meet so long as nothing majorly unexpected happens.
The Heart of the Matter
The simple fact of the matter is that I’ve been listening to podcasts, studying, immersing myself in the the world of self-publishing as an author because I was very fascinated by it and this all started as a lark and a strong desire to learn on my part, but now I’d like to actually do something with all these words I’ve written. I’ve dug into it and it just feels so tedious and overwhelming and a lot more like marketing than writing, so much so that I want to just go for a long walk and not write anything.
But, of course, these distractions are absurd. I’m writing because it’s pleasurable. I don’t think I’d take any pleasure in the marketing of it (at least not so far). And I don’t want to be stuck writing the same story over and over (it seems the most successful self-publishers are genre or style specific). But then I had to ask myself: What does success look like for me?
So I had to give myself a talking to and remind myself that I do have a job (that I actually like!). I am under no obligation to become a marketing professional. I make enough money to live comfortably. Ultimately, I have to focus on the craft (because I do want to write well and continue to improve and I’ve already given myself permission to suck in order to learn from it) and forget the rest.
I think the real problem is that I’ve been making the craft of writing itself secondary to the business of self-publishing. It seems lots of self-published writers are treating writing as a kind of sport–a race–that they are working on in order to improve their time and their bottom line and they assume that volume will eventually lead to quality.
So I’m stuffing all my self-doubts and going back to focusing on the quiet joys of story and structure.
I’m also giving myself permission to suck at marketing.
*reposting from a couple of days ago because the post appears to be corrupted*
So I did NaNoWriMo last year and I won, which was personally illuminating in many ways. And the novel itself was fairly mediocre to downright bad. Pretty quickly after I finished my 50,000 words I started to work on a different story. One that came out of nowhere (though it was inspired by a real moment in my life). And then I dropped it for ages.
Oh, you know: It was the holidays. I started a new job in February. It was suddenly summer and I wanted to go for long walks instead of sitting at my computer. Excuses piled up. But a few weeks ago I decided that I’d follow the advice I’d been avoiding for years: Write every day. Too vague! So I opted to write 1,000 words per day. And I have done so pretty faithfully for a few weeks. I’ve also deleted whole chapters and subplots and changed my mind and re-worked and so far I have 33,000 words that I can’t be sure will stay or go but I add to them every day (even if I cut them later).
Making writing a habit is working for me in ways I never expected. I have given myself other permissions that are also working for me, including: Writing scenes as they come to me regardless of the order they might appear in the novel. Writing scenes when I have no idea where they will end up going or even if they don’t move the overall plot forward. Writing in notes to be filled in later like “discuss her hatred of waitressing” or “add a second public humiliation”. It seems I’m always up for a second public humiliation.
But what it comes down is that I’m writing regularly. And it’s very often the highlight of my day. I don’t feel pressured to finish anything or to write to an audience. This is entirely for me and it’s the first time I’ve experienced real joy while writing (aside from the joy I used to feel when I saw my name in print in the trade magazines I’ve written for).
The process is different from the style of writing I’ve done in the past. Writing for trade publications is like digging in and solving a small puzzle. It’s a fun process but not as creative as I have craved for most of my career. I love this little story I’m writing, and I’ve fallen in love with these characters as they’ve slowly revealed themselves to me. I look forward to finding out what they’ll do next.
For years I thought 1990 was the most pivotal year of my life. I turned 18. My father died unexpectedly and my entire life (such that it was) fell apart. Losing my father set in motion a long and exhausting chain of events that, when I put them in a list, sound a lot like a ridiculous Victorian or Gothic novel updated for the grunge era that included schemers, liars, cheats, and endless betrayals (complete with a pop soundtrack by Nirvana and 10,000 Maniacs).
But now that I’m older (wiser?) I know that 1993 was the more important year, because it was the year I started to put my life together.
My initial attempts at pulling myself out of the toxic spiral of grief and betrayal were unsuccessful (I wasn’t ready? Or the crazy people I surrounded myself were of no help?) but when I moved to Mackinac Island on July 17, 1993, it gave me the time and distance from my troubles that helped me remember that my life was actually my own—and I could take charge of it.
By the end of the summer I’d discovered truly wonderful lifelong friends, had the perfect summer romance, realized that I could stand on my own (and that I liked it that way), and I started to truly grow up and move past the dark years of drama and trauma following my father’s death.
So here’s a snippet of my journal from July 19, 1993, my first entry in two weeks after declaring, “I need to get out of this town before I go insane.”
Note: I’ve kept the angsty melodramatic tones intact but removed some passages about my family drama and all the Douglas Copeland books I had read recently.
Life flies by like some insane butterfly, constantly making unexpected dips and turns. Right now I’m sitting on the top of my bunk bed at Corby dorms, above Ryba’s Fudge Shop on Mackinac Island.
Saturday morning I took the Arnold Ferry and arrived on the island, my luggage ridiculously pulled behind me.
So far the people are nice, I guess, but I always crave the familiar, except when I’m in the familiar. Except things aren’t so familiar at home afterall…
I guess it all got to be too much at home…so I’ve resigned myself to living here for now. A long thin room with four girls in two bunk beds. Public facilities prevail.
My self-proclaimed “dorm alcoholic” roommate Paula (from Flint, no less) told me that a girl showed up to Corby a few weeks ago, took one look at the bedrooms, turned around and left. “Not even here two hours,” Paula said. It’s probably a fib but it makes for good copy.
I’ve been scooping ice cream. My wrists are sore just writing this. I reek of sugar sticky scream, especially Blue Moon – the scourge of my existence.
Yesterday, Paula and I were at the marina watching the sailboats come in. The winner, The Windquest, was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
Starting to read The Color Purple today. Will switch to using a purple pen.
I am the last and least influential person on earth to weigh in on the whole Oscar misogyny debacle. It’s been talked to death and cataloged. So I guess I just wanted to add a personal spin to it.
I have watched The Oscars every year for my entire life. My mother and grandmother loved the movies–my grandmother especially–and we always settled in under blankets and watched the entire show, delighting in seeing the stars in our living room in their most beautiful and glamorous ensembles–and live, so we knew exactly where they were and what they were wearing (which, in the 1970s and 80s was a treat, believe it or not).
And I grew up enthralled with the movies, watching endless black and white films with my grandmother who knew everything about every star like she had memorized the Old Hollywood version of a Biographical Dictionary of Celebrity Gossip. It was like having my very own low-brow Anne Helen Peterson! We watched our favorites over and over. I really can’t count how many rainy or wintry afternoons we spent watching Gone with the Wind!
In my teens, I was sure I’d grow up to write for Movieline magazine, maybe Premiere. Maybe entertainment editor for Sassy! Oddly, I had no interest in celebrity interviews. I wanted to be Joe Queenan, Libby Gelman-Waxner–writers with wacky personalities and strong opinions. It wasn’t until college that I discovered Film Theory. I quickly switched colleges to pursue it.
Film studies taught me that I’d spent my entire life “reading against the grain” to find the points of and places in entertainment that I could connect to, that I could love. I read three classic pieces in feminist film theory that rocked my world (Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” of course; “Pre-Text and Text in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” by Lucie Arbuthnot and Gail Seneca; and Doane’s “Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator”) and changed how I see movies entirely.
One might argue they ruined the movies for me, of course. But it also made me feel closer to my grandmother. who taught me how to watch movies. She wouldn’t just put a movie on and tune out. No, she offered context and celebrity gossip that taught me a great deal about film studies even though she had no idea what that was.
My grandmother was the one who said to ignore the last few minutes of any movie pairing Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy. “Men used to run everything,” she explained. And they made Katherine Hepburn capitulate in some way in the last scene of her movies so the men could continue to feel like they were in charge even though Kate clearly had the upper hand by being smarter and worker harder than everybody else.
It was through my grandmother’s lens that I learned to watch movies. She filtered them for me so that I understood how to enjoy them. She was a feminist film studies pioneer.
And so it was disheartening to be reminded on Sunday night that no matter how far we’ve come here we still are. Looking for points of identification and people to root for amid a bunch of insults and degradation. And so I did what I would have done had my grandmother been there: rolled my eyes and sighed through a dumb boobs song; cheered for Adele and Shirley Bassey; gasped for Jennifer Lawrence when she stumbled; debated the sincerity of Anne Hathaway’s “It came true”–my grandmother and mother would have debated that one all night; wondered why Harry Potter didn’t give Bella Swan a hand as she limped to the mic and delivered her trademark mix of snarly and spacey; speculated about the depths of Ben Affleck’s marital misery and whether or not he was actually admitting that those blind items are true; and shook my head in sympathy at poor Kristen Chenowith trying to put up her own charm offensive up in the midst of MacFarlane’s unyielding smarm offensive.
My grandmother would have enjoyed a lot of it, even as she picked it apart.
Though it is now known primarily as a child’s toy, View-Master was launched at the 1939 New York World’s Fair as a way to see the world from home in full-color 3-D images. It was marketed as a more exciting souvenir than a traditional postcard and reels were often sold at tourist destinations across the globe. View-Master reels featured beautiful photography of famous places and people through the 1960s.
Medical schools and the U.S. military used View-Master viewers and reels as educational tools, providing educational 3-D images to students of everything from internal organs to fighter planes.
In the 1960s, View-Master underwent a change of ownership and became increasingly targeted at children. The reels of that era de-emphasized education and scenic themes and moved aggressively toward entertainment titles focusing on cartoons and popular television programs.
Today, View-Master is owned by Fisher-Price and is considered a young child’s toy but the collector market thrives online.
Though the look of the viewers themselves has changed over time the reels have remained consistent. Any View-Master brand viewer will show any View-Master brand reel from any decade. Most vintage items are relatively inexpensive, but the price goes up exponentially for rare items.
Looking to buy/sell/trade/give away View-Master stuff to a good home? Let me know.
This website provides not only detailed information on every View-Master branded viewer in existence but a long list of knock-off brands with detailed photos and specifications. The site also features images of rare variants in viewers, such as unusual materials or colors used in production. Most importantly for collectors, it offers detailed specifications on the internal projection and overall quality of each View-Master viewer.
While it promotes itself as an animated, searchable list of individual reels, the best thing about this website is the 360-degree videos of every View-Master brand viewer produced since 1939. This is the most comprehensive visual representation online, featuring 20 distinct viewers and their various attachments. From the earliest “clamshell” style viewer to the brightly colored molded plastic viewers used today, this site has them all. There is also an area to view 360-degree videos of each of the four View-Master projectors available on the collectors market.
The Ultimate Reel List was an invaluable resource. It listed every known reel by logical numeric or alphabetical grouping as well as every known variant in images. I adapted the site into this handy spreadsheet.
Adapted from the View-Master Ultimate Reel List. From their site: As there was no official list of titles, this View-Master Database is an attempt to build a complete list of every individual reel, set, and their variants known to have been issued. It is hoped that the site will be of value to collectors and can continue to be expanded in the future.
Fisher-Price/Mattel currently owns View-Master and the official site is the place to discover new releases, most of which are for the virtual reality viewers. New releases are limited to children’s titles and education; travel reels have been slowly phased out over the years, finally ending production entirely in March 2009 (though there has been talk off and on over the years, I haven’t seen anything noteworthy in awhile). In early 2013 it was announced that Basic Fun had licensed the View-Master name from Fisher-Price and is producing new products but they are cheap and basically a nostalgic thing for parents and grandparents to buy little kids.
The View-Master Resource provides information on creating personal view-master reels. However, it also helpfully provides scans of envelopes and packaging so if a collector acquires a set of reels without the original envelope it came in, they can print a reproduction from a .pdf file and have a copy of the original packaging. Not as comprehensive as a collector might like but it’s a great a resource if a collector has reels that are in great shape but are missing the packaging.
One of the few print resources for View-Master history and values, this exhaustive guide provides a history and context—as well as a price guide that lists most known reels and approximate values at the time of publication. However, it does not list reel variants. Higher values items are generally rare so this book provides a quick reference for what reels are rare and thus worth the added expense, even if the exact market price is outdated. It also provides a history of the precursor to View-Master, the stereoscope and detailed information on the collectability of stereoscopic photo sets.
This is a limited edition book written by the foremost View-Master historians and collectors. This book offers both a behind-the-scenes look at the history of the company from interviews conducted with former employees and detailed information about collecting View-Master products.
This is a members-only group populated with some of the most knowledgeable View-Master collectors in the world. Anyone may join. New members are welcome to search the archive for information that dates back more than 10 years and to ask questions of members to benefit from the group’s collective wisdom. From collectors selling off their massive collections to questions about the right light bulb to get for a vintage lighted View-Master, the ViewMaster and 3D Stereo Group knows everything a collector wants to know.
The NSA is a group dedicated to all things 3-D, with an emphasis on photography. The site includes a long list of links for View-Master enthusiasts. The organization’s annual gathering includes a day of selling and swapping 3-D items with some View-Master collectors in attendance. The annual event is a great chance to scoop up or swap items from other members.
It is one of the only stores online to specialize in View-Master viewers and reels, as well as 3-D paraphernalia in general. They offer new reels and old, as well as viewers, generally in excellent condition. They also offer hard to find, limited-run View-Master sets that are independently produced. Topics tend to focus on design and architecture and include reels, a viewer and a book on a specific architect or designer, such as Frank Lloyd Wright.
It is by far the most popular place for collectors to add to their collections. Ebay generally has dozens of pages of search results offering everything from single reels to large lots, from the common to the completely obscure–even personal reels created by amateur stereo photographers during the product’s heyday. Generally considered the only place to find educational reels produced for the military or medical schools, as well as other older and hard-to-find reels.
Online, Craigslist and Facebook marketplace are also good resources. In person, check flea markets and second-hand stores.
If you have red/blue 3D glasses this link is an archive to my 3D photos, some of which have made it onto my personal View-Master reels. If you want to create your own View-Master-style reels, check out Image3D.com.
What’s it Worth?
View-Master items, by and large, are inexpensive. Of course, if the item is rare, value goes up exponentially. The best way to find out what your item is worth is to search for it on eBay and check the completed and sold listings in the advanced search functions. Don’t assume anything. The “cool” old bakelite viewers are a dime a dozen because they were produced for decades. But if you have the viewer with the focusing feature (the Model D), you might get a nice return on it.
This pathfinder provides information for those interested in learning more about View-Master products and collecting. It should be of interest to new collectors interested in finding more information on this still relatively small community of enthusiasts.