With 3-D movies and televisions all the current rage, it’s easy to lose site of the fact that 3-D is hardly a new phenomenon.
Riding on the popularity of turn-of-the-century stereo cards, in 1939 a man named William Gruber patented the first round “View-Master” reel and viewer. The first reels featured travel sites, and were designed to be sold at souvenir and camera shops.
It wasn’t long before Viewmaster products became widely popular–resulting in hundreds of topics including travel sites, TV shows, movies, cartoons, advertising and home-made personal reels.
But do those old View-Master reels, packets, viewers and projectors have any real value to collectors? The answer is often yes!
This article is meant to be a general guide to View-Master values. Before you throw those old reels away, take a moment to check them out!
In the broadest terms, there are two “types” of View-Master reels, those that are “hand-lettered” and those that have regular, typeface printing on them. The “hand-lettered” reels are the oldest reels, produced mainly in the 1940’s. Many “hand-lettered” reels are valuable to collectors, as they were generally produced in smaller quantities. Values can range anywhere from $1 to $100, depending on the topic of the reel.
About Reel Topics: In trying to determine the value of any particular reel topic, it’s important to consider scarcity. The more popular the topic of the reel, the more that were likely sold, and therefore, the more common (and less valuable) the reel. For instance, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Washington D.C., etc., etc. are all very popular destinations, and thus thousands and thousands of reels were sold featuring them. Therefore, those reels are typically worth much less than a more unique destination (such as a World’s Fair or short-lived amusement park.)
Foreign reels vs. U.S. reels: In the 1940’s, the View-Master company quickly expanded sales and topics to foreign destinations. In general, the most popular foreign destinations (England, Paris, Germany, etc.) tend to be worth less than unique, specific foreign destinations. For instance, a general “England” reel may only be worth $1, but a reel featuring the “Black Forest” in England may be worth $10.
View-Master Packets: In the 1950’s, the Viewmaster company began packaging reels into three-reel packets (in addition to continuing the sale of single reels.)
Packets came in hundreds of varieties, including scenics, TV shows, cartoons, etc.
As for packet values, the law of scarcity applies once again. Popular destinations like the Grand Canyon were produced and sold in great quantities, and are thus not worth nearly as much as a more unique destination.
The packets with the most value include unique foreign destinations, unique and short-lived US travel destinations and popular TV shows.
Unique reel varieties: In addition to the mass-produced reels, View-Master was involved in the production of various unique reels. These type of reels tend to be the most valuable to collectors. Examples include movie preview reels (reels produced to promote a small group of movies in the 1950’s…these reels were mostly only released to movie theaters); commercial advertising reels (an advertiser could have a “custom” reel made promoting his or her own business); and home-made “personal” reels. “Personal” reels may have particular value if they feature a unique setting, person or topic.
View-Master viewers: The view-master company made many different types of viewers of the years. As they were sold by the hundreds of thousands, for collector purposes, most viewers have only a very nominal value. The most common viewer, the black “art deco” model of the 1950’s, is worth only a few dollars.
Exceptions however, include the early “Model A” viewers, the unique “Model D” focusing viewer, and unique promotional viewers.
View-Master Projectors: Unfortunately, most View-Master projectors have only a very nominal value. The only exception is the scarce 1950’s 3-D viewer which projects image in 3-D. (Most View-Master projectors project images in 2-D.)
View-Master Cameras: In the 1950’s, View-Master produced a 3-D camera, which enabled a person to make their own, personal Viewmaster reels. The cameras and accessories (including the camera film “cutter”), are all quite popular with collectors and depending on condition can be worth $100 or much more. If you have one, it’s best to have it checked out by an informed View-Master collector or dealer.
In general: The more unique or scarce the topic of the reel, the more it is likely to be worth. As with all collectibles, please keep in mind that condition and completeness are also very important factors in determining value.
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Happy 3-D viewing!