Production of Viewmaster Travel Reels Ends

In this edition of my collector’s guide series we will discuss the Viewmaster, the 3D still picture viewer that’s been a staple toy item for nearly 70 years, and the demise of travel destination reels for it. The Fisher-Price division of Mattel, who currently owns the rights to Viewmaster, recently announced that they had quietly ceased production of the once popular travel reels in December of 2008, citing declining sales. While some kid oriented reels will remain in production, such as Shrek and Dora the Explorer, Viewmaster reels of places like the Grand Canyon and Alamo are no more. Will these reels and even the Viewmasters themselves become collectibles in the near and short term? Lets take a look…

Guide Continued Below…

We’ll begin by taking a quick look at the history of the Viewmaster. The 3D picture viewer was invented in 1939 by two inventors, William Gruber and Harold Graves, who worked for Sawyer’s Photo Services. They created it by blending the existing stereoscope with Kodak’s then new Kodachrome 16mm color film. During WWII the Viewmaster was used for training troops. After the war, Sawyer’s acquired their main competitor, Tru-Vue, and, with it, a lucrative contract with Walt Disney. In 1966, Sawyer’s was acquired by the General Aniline & Film Corporation, aka GAF. They added in a more popular entertainment reels while bringing out a number of new models and demphasizing travel reels. Viewmaster got passed around to different corporate owners until it arrived at Mattel’s Fisher-Price division in 1997 during it’s merger with Tyco.

While there have been many different Viewmaster viewers over the years the basic design of the reels has remained the same. A reel made in 2009 can be viewed in a 1939 era viewer and vice-versa. The reels consist of 14 film slides for 7 pairs of images that when viewed together produce a  stereoscopic image. In addition to travel and entertainment viewing, Viewmaster reels have also been used for anatomy lessons and military training.

So, what should you look for in collectible Viewmaster viewers and reels?

First off, look for age. Reels and viewers from the 1940’s and 1950’s aren’t too expensive so far as collectibles go and with the popularity of the Viewmaster fading with the younger set who finds them boring the vintage appeal can only increase. As always, verify the authenticity of the goods in question as best you can. I would suggest that less common travel destinations that are still popular or unusual in some way would be the best bet’s for collectibility. Of course, everybody will have a Grand Canyon reel up for sale.

As for the viewers, look for original vintage Sawyer and Tru-Vue viewers. 1962 marked the switch to cheaper plastics from bakelite so locating a pre-1962 model is a good find. It isn’t easy to locate viewers in excellent condition but you still can run across some in garage and estate sales. Also look for still intact sets with the viewer and matching reels or just matched sets of reels. Keeping a set like this together with kids was tough so finding an intact vintage set is also a good find.

If you have any questions about purchasing vintage Viewmaster viewers and reels, please feel free to ask. I’ll try my best to answer them if I can.


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Comment by JL Palmetto
2009-03-05 09:59:45

>>The Fisher-Price division of Mattel, who currently owns the rights to Viewmaster, recently announced that they had quietly ceased production of the once popular travel reels in December of 2008, citing declining sales.<<

Oh my gosh!!!!!!!!

No more Viewmaster reels????

I feel like the door on my childhood has finally closed.

Thank goodness you can still find Viewmaster on an online auction site. These are going to be even more hot now as collector items, don’t you think?


Comment by The Blogger Source
2009-03-05 15:15:58

I loved my Viewmaster but I suppose with anything time moves things aside. If you have one hang on to it. It’s fun to pull out now and then.

Comment by jfc
2009-03-06 08:33:28

Hi Blogger Source,

It’s fun to break out the old stuff from time to time. I always enjoyed breaking out my Grandfather’s parlor stereoscope. He sold them door to door back in the 1920’s to help earn his way through college.

Comment by Typhoon
2009-03-23 05:53:48

Yeah, I too loved ViewMaster…Sad to know that thing.

Comment by Anna Maria
2009-03-05 17:19:50

That is a blast from my past. I remember the Viewmaster’s colorful images of “The Painted Desert” and “The Grand Canyon” that I had as child, plus a few of Disneyland. All are long since lost to younger relatives and discarded for micro technology with lots of batteries.
I might have thought that old Viewmaster viewers would fetch more with boomers.
Thanks for the nostalgia moment!

Comment by jfc
2009-03-06 08:36:40

Hi Anna,

The prices on them are still on the low side but as they gradually cut production of Viewmasters or perhaps stopping selling them entirely, which I’d guess is in their plans, I predict that the price will begin to rise in a few years.

Also, a lot of collectibles are lower in price right now due to the economy so it’s not a bad time to buy and hold if you have the cash available.

Comment by Odzyskiwanie Danych
2009-03-06 03:44:44

Viewmasters were great. Just imagine how much they’ll be worth in 50-60 years.

2009-03-06 08:16:26

I have not seen a view master in about 25 years. Thanks for the pis.

Comment by RNB Love Songs
2009-03-06 08:20:14

I don’t know. I feel like these things are so vintage, I could never get into them.

I was thinking about it, I wonder if you should spice up your reviews with more pictures.

Comment by jfc
2009-03-06 08:30:49


I guess you have to have a taste for vintage items to get into them. Just about my whole family is into vintage and antique collectibles of one sort or another.

Here’s why I don’t use product pictures explained on my other blog: Earn Online Cash with Ugly Websites. ;)

2009-03-10 05:28:27

JFC, I have to admit, I was wondering the same thing (about why you don’t use product pictures).. Thanks for the explanation! It does make sense..

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Comment by Funny Junk
2009-03-06 09:46:20

Yea, it’s definitely a vintage thing. It has been a long time since I looked through one of them.

2009-03-07 10:00:08

Man, now this is a throwback! I’m going to have to dig around and see if I still have mine lying around somewhere.

2009-03-08 11:20:02

Bringing back some serious memories here! Nothing like reminiscing of a Sunday afternoon. I’m not surprised though sadly at the declining sales, as collectible items generally are passed over for more items of need. Still, its sad to see the end of production :(

Comment by Save Money Tips
2009-03-09 07:52:46

I remember the Tru-Vue viewers I had one back in the 1960’s - they even had New Zealand tourist scenes I seem to remember! Not quite an iPhone I guess - but we thought they were pretty cool technology

Comment by Webkinz
2009-03-09 15:33:49

Viewmasters were awesome…I always liked them.

Comment by Web Marketing
2009-03-19 08:18:37

I remember these from childhood days! I can’t believe they were manufactured until last year! I suppose that fact will greatly enhance their status as collectors items now!

Comment by Chris
2009-03-27 19:02:44

Why would they stop making the travel reels? It makes no sense.

Comment by Lorecee
2009-04-06 15:22:57

Keeping a set like this together with kids was tough . . .

That’s an understatement if I ever read one. Me and my siblings were always pretty good about keeping our Viewmasters in their little envelopes and filed in order (we all grew up to be overachieving types) but when the neighbor kids came over to play, I refused to mention that we had them. I’ll have to ask my mom whatever became of them.

The photography was pretty good artistically as I recall, and if the film was 16mm, then that accounts for the rich colors. And oh, that 3-D!

2009-04-09 08:57:00

Haha, now that’s what I like to here. Nothing like hiding it from the neighbors. I must have done that with countless toys back in the day.

2009-04-12 10:17:52

Oh, yeah I remember them! I had no idea it was used to train troops in WWII. Wow, what an interesting history. Thank you for this info. They will definitely be collector’s items at this point.

Comment by Donald
2009-04-15 04:23:08

I looked through them, I’m going to have to dig around, its sad to see the end of production, we thought they were pretty cool technology, they were manufactured until last year, I suppose that fact will greatly enhance their status

2009-05-04 01:34:56

This is a very sad development - I guess anyone over 40 remembers the cool thing that viewmaster reels were in their day!

Comment by DoFollow - Chris
2009-05-04 21:33:41

Wow. The memories of the view master. My favorite was Scooby Do. I always assumed these when out 10 years ago! But its still sad.

Comment by Meeting rooms
2009-05-18 09:04:39

It’s really sadd that the iconic reels of tourist attractions, often packaged with a clunky plastic viewer and first sold to promote 3-D photography, ended its 70-year run after years of diminishing sales.

Comment by Online Shopping
2009-05-21 08:14:03

my father handed me a viewmaster reel that says national plastic corp. New York no 15 and the name of the story says the house that jack built and the reel is in black and white i want to know if its valuable?

Comment by jfc
2009-05-21 08:39:36

Hi Online Shopping,

It’s hard to say exactly. As you can see from the listings above the prices haven’t really taken off for them yet. I’d hold on to any reels you have in a proverbial “dry, cool, place” for a few years and wait for the right nostalgia boom to sell them.

Comment by Keyword Service
2009-05-26 12:37:24

Wow this makes me feel old, yet I’m only 28! I distinctly remember owning a viewmaster, although the only reel I remember is one for Pinocchio. It doesn’t sound like much fun, but it can be quite entertaining staring at these 3d images.

Comment by Steve
2009-06-15 16:23:04

Well i m elder than you, but i feel much younger from inside

Comment by london hotels
2009-06-16 09:00:15

Great Insights! This is really remarkable post.

Comment by Link Degisimi
2009-07-25 03:36:19

Yeah, I too loved ViewMaster…Sad to know that thing.

Comment by Briefcases
2009-10-05 16:17:55

These viewmaster reels bring a feeling a nostalgia. I remember playing with these as a child. I always just assumed it was only a child’s toy. I didn’t realize that there were travel reels or other adult oriented reels.

Comment by A Ingham
2010-05-01 11:58:35

Whilst gettint ready to move house we have been sorting out the attic. I have come acroos the viewer which is still in its original box and in perfect working order with the label still on the viewer. This is a Model D Stereo Focusing Also ther are quite a few reels with it, such as The Queens Coronation 1953 rel 405/406 and 407. Several different ones of countries for instance Zimbabwe Ruins, The Great Pyramids, Scenes of Ethiopia, The Arab Legion Jordan, Baalbek The Roman Ruins, and many more Also there are reels on The Resurrection parts 1.2&3. Robin Hood, 20,00Leagues under the sea, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and his Wonder Horse, Roy Rogers, Tom Corbett Space Cadet.. Are these items worth holding onto. I think they were all puchased in the 1950s Thanks

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