The View-Master Ultimate Reel List

The View-Master Ultimate Reel List

     
  Welcome
to the
View-Master
URL

More than one billion View-Master reels have been issued since this unique stereophotographic format was invented and first commercially released in 1939.

Over the years View-Master, under various corporate owners, has published contemporaneous lists or catalogs of single reels and multiple-reel packets, but there has never been an "official" cumulative list of all View-Master issues. It has been left for collectors to unearth and document the complete range of View-Master titles.

The View-Master URL draws from a variety of sources to build as comprehensive a list as possible of every individual reel and multi-reel set, and their variants, known to have been issued. The List is necessarily a work-in-progress, subject to continual refinement: additions, and revisions

In addition to the reel/packet List, there are two galleries illustrating the evolution of View-Master single reels and 3-reel packets.

  
  Technical
Notes
about
Browsing
the List

The List depends entirely on HTML tables, so a Web browser capable of rendering tables is needed for proper viewing.

The List is divided into pages sufficiently small for convenient transfer and to avoid problems with browsers formatting the page, but still large enough for a meaningful spread of information.

The List is viewable at any window size, but opening the window to your full screen width minimizes line-wraps within cells. Setting your browser's font size as small as you can tolerate also helps.

While the List is organized according to original reel/packet numbering, it is possible using your browser's FIND function to search each page by subject or keyword.

A few entries in the List include hypertext notes. With some browsers, selecting the link opens a separate window to display the appropriate notes page (single reel, 3-reel packet, or blisterpack); the window can be re-sized, moved aside, and left open to display other notes encountered while browsing the List.

The single reel and packet variant galleries include large image files. You may wish to set your browser to "graphics off" mode before accessing these pages, then load the images after acquiring the text.

We are working to update the URL so that it is searchable by name, title, code, etc. Please bear with us. This is a daunting task.

  
  The List

Single Reels:

3-Reel Packets:

Blisterpacks:

Miscellanea:

  
  A Brief
View-Master
History

Although today considered a toy, View-Master began it's commercial life in 1939 as a home-entertainment medium intended as much for adults as for children.

Invented by William Gruber and marketed by Harold Graves through Edwin and Fred Mayer's photo-finishing, postcard, and greeting card company, Sawyer's, View-Master was a successor to the stereograph viewer popularized in the 19th century by Oliver Wendell Holmes. But View-Master was an improvement over the traditional stereograph; it offered seven stereo views on each reel, compared with the stereograph's one view per card, and provided them in color by using Kodak's (then-) new color transparency film, Kodachrome.

From 1939 to 1950, View-Master reels were sold individually. In the early 1950s, Sawyer's had a sufficient catalog of titles to begin grouping existing single reels into packets according to common subjects (for example, reels 251, 252, & 253 were sold as a Carlsbad Caverns packet).

In 1951 Sawyer's bought out the rival Tru-Vue company, which produced stereo views on 35mm film strips. The takeover eliminated View-Master's chief competitor, but of perhaps greater significance was the acquisition of Tru-Vue's license with Walt Disney Studios. In the mid-1950s Sawyer's exploited this asset to produce popular reels and packets devoted not only to Disney's animated characters but to the newly-opened Disneyland theme park and the studio's live-action feature films and television shows. The relationship between View-Master and Disney has continued uninterrupted to the present day.

By 1957, virtually all new production had been shifted to 3-reel packets and a new numbering system was established, applied to packets rather than to individual reels. The older single reels could be found in packets as late as the middle 1960s, until Sawyer's depleted their inventory. As backstock was eliminated, reels bearing the newer packet taxonomy were manufactured to replace them.

In late 1966 Sawyer's was acquired as a wholly-owned subsidiary by the General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation. New packet designs reflected the change in ownership and the number of View-Master packet titles continued to expand, but the GAF era is principally remembered for two developments:

  • a shift in emphasis in the View-Master catalog from travelogue/scenic subjects to crossover subjects from other entertainment media (movies, television, cartoons, sports) and juvenalia;

  • the substitution of E6 process film stock for Kodachrome and the use of internegatives in the manufacture of View-Master reels. While E6 film was easier to process it did not provide the saturated, durable color that is Kodachrome's hallmark; new images had a blue-green cast which shifted within a few years to a magenta bias. And while use of an internegative provides more control over exposure than a positive-to-positive transfer process, it constitutes an added generation in image reproduction which inevitably increases grain and decreases contrast.

In 1981 GAF sold View-Master to a group of investors headed by Arnold Thaler, and the company was reconstituted as the View-Master International Group. While this transfer of ownership ensured continuance of the View-Master line, the trend toward entertainment and juvenile titles continued as well. Two major marketing changes were instituted during the VMI period:

  • VMI replaced the venerable packet with a hanging blisterpack that had space for only three reels, with no booklet or other accompanying material. The last envelope-based packet design is the "V2" variant.

  • VMI ceased all direct mail-order sales from the home office in Portland. World-Wide Slides, based in Minnesota, was licensed to service the mail-order market.

VMI subsequently acquired the Ideal Toy Company in 1984 and became known as the View-Master Ideal Group; V-M Ideal in turn was purchased by Tyco Toys in 1989.

In March 1997 Tyco, including the View-Master Ideal Group, merged with Mattel Inc. V-M is placed organizationally in Mattel's pre-school division and is now marketed under the Fisher-Price imprint, so collectors likely can expect a continued emphasis on juvenile content for the foreseeable future.

  
  Single
Reel
Numbering

The original View-Master single reels were numbered from 4 to 5870; the numbering is not continuous and many numbers in this range were never assigned to published reels.

In addition to the standard numbering range there were many special groupings with alphanumeric designations and numbers beyond the normal range, for example:

  • the "DR" series
    demonstration reels sold with viewers or given by dealers to customers as promotional items.

  • the "SP" & "9000" series
    "Special Places" reels intended to be sold on-site at a tourist attraction; in many cases they duplicate the content of reels in the normal numbering range. The 9000 series reels are identical in content to SP reels with the same number.

  • the "WF" series
    the Wildflower reels, sold both individually and as a set accompanying the book Alpine Wild Flowers of the Western United States by Howard R. Stagner.

  
  Single
Reel
Variants

Although the cardstock View-Master reels have always been printed by offset or other printing processes, the typography of the earliest reels was by hand; Sawyer's began typesetting the reels in 1946. The highest numbered, and presumably last issued, hand-lettered reel was 667, La Plata, Argentina.

With only a few exceptions, copyright dates normally were not indicated on hand-lettered reels. This practice was carried over briefly in the latter 1940s as production was converted to typesetting. By 1950 all newly-issued or -revised reels were typeset and most bore copyright dates.

Sawyer's expanded its production base with manufacturing facilities in Belgium in 1953 and Australia in 1958. Belgian- and Australian-issue reels carried, respectively, "Made in Belgium" and "Made in Australia" statements in the indicia to the left of the center hole; all such reels are typeset. Belgian issues generally (though not always) bore copyright dates; Australian issues seem never to have indicated copyright dates. Australian production ceased in 1961; the Belgian operation was discontinued in 1996, though by that time production had long since concentrated on 3-reel sets.

In the List, single reels are identified as either hand-lettered or typeset; known hand-lettered variants and Belgian- or Australian-issue reels are noted parenthetically. Copyright dates, if any, are also listed.

Gallery of single reel variants:
Hand-lettered, gold foil center (circa 1939-1940)
Hand-lettered, blue ring (circa 1940-1941)
Hand-lettered, buff (circa 1941-1944)
Hand-lettered, white (circa 1944-1946)
Typeset (circa 1946-present)
  
  3-Reel
Packet
Numbering

Early View-Master packets of the S1/S2/S3 design style (explained below) were not numbered; rather, numbering was applied to the individual reels within packets.

  • In some packets the reels were simply existing singles bearing their usual designations; for example, the Rocky Mountain National Park packet from this period consisted of reels 101, 102, & SP-9042.

  • Reels in other packets shared a common number with an alphabetic suffix; for example, Mexico contained reels 500-A, 500-B, & 500-C. (In Europe and England, where packets were introduced somewhat later than in the U.S., many of these reels were marketed singly.) The numeric designation of such A/B/C sets were generally related to existing single-reel numbering; for example, single reels with Mexico subjects were numbered in the 500 range.

  • Packets in the State Guide Series included reels carrying a state abbreviation and numeric suffix; for example, Colorado contained reels COLO-1, COLO-2, & COLO-3.

Later S4/S5/S6 style packets may be found containing reels numbered in this manner, because Sawyer's practice was to deplete backstock before printing newly-numbered reels.

A new numbering system, printed on packet envelopes, was instituted beginning with the S4 style. (Sawyer's actually manually rubber-stamped the new packet numbers on the back of packet envelopes toward the end of S3 style packet production.) The new numbers consisted of three digits with an alphabetic prefix; each reel in the packet was uniquely identified by a fourth digit appended to the packet number in series. For example, packet A320 (Colorado) contains reels A3201, A3202, & A3203. This numbering system persisted through V2 style packet production and into the early blisterpacks.

The new numbering system also was used for the few single reels published from the mid-1950s onward. In some cases these reels were stand-alone titles, such as B6551, Vanguard Launching at Cape Canaveral. In other cases such reels were issued singly but were related to existing 3-reel packets; for example, the numbering of A3215, Pike's Peak by Train, and A3216, Pike's Peak by Auto, is sequential with the numbering of the three reels in packet A321, Pike's Peak & Colorado Springs.

  
  3-Reel
Packet
Variants

The exterior design of View-Master packet envelopes evolved greatly over the years in reponse to marketing needs and changes in company ownership. Any given packet is likely to have been issued in more than one design style; copyright dates often appear on packet envelopes, but normally apply to the packet contents rather than the envelope variant. Collectors often try to acquire their favorite titles in every known variant.

Collectors have devised a (more or less) standard classification system to identify the various packet styles. The coding system is originally credited to Bill Wolf, an Allentown Pennsylvania collector, and refined by Walter Sigg, Roger Nazeley and Dalia Miller; however, collectors, auctioneers, and mail-order sources typically adapt the system to their own needs and inclinations.

Belgian-Made
Gallery of 3-reel packet variants:
Sawyer's
 
GAF
 
View-Master International,
Ideal, Tyco, & Fisher-Price
S1
S2
S3
S4
SU
S5
SX
S6

GU
G1/G2
G3-G6

V1/V2
Blisterpack


BS1
BS2
BS3
BS4
BS5
BS6

BG1
BG2
BG3
BG4

     

 

© 2013
The View-Master Ultimate Reel List originally created by Keith Baird.
Maintained by 3Dstereo.com, Inc.
.