Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The world through a View-Master

On July 23, 2012, I did a small post on the century-old stereoscopic viewer, the “modern version” of which, Ron Scheer of Buddies in the Saddle reminded me, was the View-Master which came with circular picture discs, each containing over a dozen colourful images of animals, cartoons, and other themes. The pictures were sharp and clear and gave out a 3D effect. You went click, click, click…till you went full circle and returned to the first slide. 

© Andrew Hazelden

I thought of the View-Master again while writing about Beautiful People yesterday. The animals in the documentary reminded me of the picture disc of animals that I used to look at through my View-Master. The colour of most of the View-Masters I saw in childhood, including my own, was red while others were in blue.

The View-Master, which belonged to the family of special-format stereoscopes, was introduced by Sawyer's Photo Services in 1939, a few years after Kodachrome colour film which gave us small high-quality photographic colour images. The View-Master reels, as they were known, were thin cardboard disks containing seven stereoscopic 3D pairs of small colour photographs on film. You can read more about it here.

The View-Master held a strange fascination for me then, as the Samsung Galaxy Note does now. One was a simple and satisfying childhood indulgence, the other is an extravagance I can do without.


  1. From the first post in the current Overlooked A/V roundelay:

    For another example of Stuff You Probably Don't See Much Of Any Longer: ViewMaster. Now, there's a thriving collectors market, aided like most such by eBay and its competitors over the years, but the new ViewMaster offers for sale the last time I was around a VM display were very sorry, indeed...which I suspect indicated the worsening fortunes of the retail outlet almost as much as the downgraded state of VM in a video and console-game age, with animated 3D still problematic but available. But the beauty of at least some the nature and science packs (VM typically sold its slide discs in three-packs), and the mild (or not so mild) joy of some of the entertainment packs, at least if one was capable of enjoying that kind of photography, was hard to deny (I did throughly enjoy the clay artistry of some of the Peanuts cartoon adaptations). And, of course, that sort of stereo photography wasn't just useful for the entertainment and instruction of children: my only college roommate was a studio art and pre-med major, and as such brought home discs of autopsy photos...a corpse missing a mandible was among the most disturbing images I'd seen to that time. And in dead, nearly palpable color.

    I'll be darned. We've been doing this set for two years, almost to the day..

  2. I've still got a veiwmaster and two sets of disks for it, a batman series and a dinosaur series.

  3. The VM in our household filled many many hours of my childhood, and what's amazing now is how it never seemed to lose its interest. Today, you wouldn't expect a child to be satisfied with endless repetitions of the same few visual images. It must have been the magic of 3-D.

  4. I used to have one of those!

  5. I had one too! Love that thing. A simple, unaffected, uncomplicated invention that did just what it was supposed to. No more, no less. No apps. No diversions. No extra added attractions.

    Thanks for the reminder, Prashant.

  6. The viewmaster is one of the toys that most of us adults enjoyed during our childhood. Kids of today's generation are not quite aware of it, but I think they will appreciate it too. I love still love looking through viewmaster. And my kids enjoy it too. In fact, I'm collecting those latest viewmaster reels for my kids to enjoy. -Image3D