ViewMaster Viewer & Reel Collecting - the basics

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You remember ViewMaster!

Those funny looking round cards with 14 photographs around the edge and those viewers which look like binoculars and that lever at the side which advances the views. Most of us had one as a child, or knew someone who had one, at least. Well, they are back and becoming more popular as a collecting area as each month goes by.

This guide is intended to get you going on a collection and to answer the most basic of questions that new collectors ask me on a regular basis. Please don't think that this guide will answer ALL your questions - you can always send me an eBay message with any other questions that you have.

Quick History

The ViewMaster system was invented in the late 1930's as an improved 'stereoscope', superceding the ones that had been popular at the turn of the century, smaller, neater and in colour too. The first viewers, models A & B, were far from perfect although they did work. The first reels also worked well and are still viewable today. The ViewMaster's heydays were in the 1940s and 50s when they became very popular indeed. Since it's invention over 1 billion reels have been produced - so there are lots around to collect today.

Viewer Basics

The decade you were born in will dictate what you think of as 'the viewer'! There was a new design at least once per decade and occasionaly several. The best selling viewers were the, mainly, Black bakelite Model C viewers from the 1950s - you'll see lots of these on eBay every day. The brown bakelite Model C was released in the 1960s and was a great improvement on the C. This is probably the most durable viewer, even today, and I'd recommend it to any beginner.
The late 1960s and 1970s brought the Model G to life and these were mainly Buff, Red or Red, White & Blue. Made of a lighter plastic these are not as durable as the bakelite models and the light-diffusers had a tendency to get pushed in slightly.
In the 1980's the Model L was released, made completely of plastic, often Red with an Orange reel change lever, these viewers are still made today. They are good robust viewers, let down by their plastic lenses. The all plastic mechanism can be gentle on delicate reels so it's always worth having one around!
There are plenty of other viewer models but these are the common ones.

Reel Basics

The most basic question that I get asked regularly is: Will all the reels work in all the viewers? The basic answer is YES! Other than Talking reels and Harry Potter 'windows', all ViewMaster reels will work with all the viewers. That means that you can buy just one viewer and use reels from any era with it. The reels, if looked after carefully, are very long lasting and both the colours and film are expected to last indefinitely!

There are some questions about faults in reels, common ones are: Why do reels bubble? and Why have the pictures on some reels gone red? The first is simple to answer: poor storage in damp conditions causes the metal layer in the reels to oxidise and the bubbles are the result. The second is more complex as it is due to colour film chemistry but put simply, this doesn't happen to Kodachrome film but does to the cheaper film that Gaf started to use in the late 1970s. There is a period of reel production which used different film which was not colour stable and these red scenes are the result.

Collecting Basics

Collect the reels that you like and which amuse you! There's lots available, every day on eBay - just search on keyword ViewMaster. You can pick up many reels for around a dollar each - rare reels can fetch three hundred plus dollars.
You can choose to collect by period, subject, style, country - anything that you can think of.
Don't wait - get started. Ask for help when you need it. There's plenty of collectors happy to help. Have fun!

There's a wonderful discussion forum for serious collectors too - you'll have to contact me to get the details.

Dave - TheViewMasterCom Here's a basic eBay search!

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