F. and S. Marriott 140 Newbegin, Hornsea, England, HU18 1PB

May 2010. Stephanie died peacefully on 19th April after a short stay in hospital. She had been suffering from acute cervical cancer. Fred will continue to run the business to the best of his ability. The web site is slowly getting under control again as he tries to take over some of Stephanie's responsibilities, and learns some of the mysteries of Dreamweaver.

The View Master system

This piece is taken from Classic Camera Magazine number 29 (with a few minor changes), and is provided to try to demonstrate the style of the magazine. Note that the magazine article is illustrated, but in order to keep download times to a minimum, I have omitted the illustrations from this version.

All back issues of Classic Camera Magazine are available; see the main Classic Camera Magazine page for details.


Sawyers have put their name to other items, but they are surely most famous for the 3-D system known as Viewmaster. A notched disc contains fourteen small pictures spaced evenly around the circumference. When placed in a viewer, these are magically transformed into seven 3-D images of people and places, telling stories or documenting life.

It all started in 1914 when Sawyers was set up by Carleton Sawyer and associates in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. The company pro-vided photo-finishing services to a small chain of American drugstores. In 1919 it was bought by investors who felt the company could do more, and the business was expanded to provide similar services for more drugstores covering the Pacific Northwest in America.

In 1938, Sawyers president was called Harold Graves. He visited the Oregon Caves where he noticed a man using two Kodak Bantam Specials. This man was William Gruber, the inventor of Viewmaster. Graves liked the idea and later in 1938, the first Viewmaster viewer and discs came onto the market with the Sawyers name. The first production viewer is round, with a hinge at the bottom. To insert a reel, the whole viewer is opened and the reel located on a central spindle (hence the hole in the middle of the discs!). The first souvenir View-master commemorated the World's Fair in 1939. Early discs are very much dominated by views of the American West.

A more streamlined version of the hinged viewer came out in 1944 and this was followed by the first top-loading viewer in 1946, which also saw the first of the fairy-tale reels (pictures - Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel). The post-war years saw the range of reels expand to include views from other countries, including England, and two small books were published with Viewmaster reels as illustrations. These were called "Succulent Plants" and "Alpine Wild Flowers of the Western U.S.A.". A bible story series was started, using live actors instead of table-top models or cartoons.

In 1951 Sawyers purchased Tru-Vue. This gave them a Disney licence, and Disney reels soon followed. In addition, reels featuring other famous cartoon characters, like Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker were released. T.V. personalities like Roy Rogers provided the basis for another series of reels; others featured include Rin Tin Tin and Gene Autry. Documentaries were attempted, using subjects like an aircraft carrier and a farm, showing daily life and routine.

In June 1952 the Viewmaster Personal Stereo Camera was launched. This would allow Viewmaster enthusiasts to create their own Viewmaster reels. The camera featured a lens shift, to maximise use of film. The film went through the camera in one direction, the lenses were shifted and the film went through the camera in the other direction exposing the second strip of film. In this way 37 stereo pairs could be taken on a 20-exposure 35 mm. film. This camera was made in brown and beige; a black version has an accessory flash. The camera ceased production in about 1955.

In 1953, it became possible to project reels and preserve the 3-D effect, as the Stereo-Matic 500 projector was introduced.

For some time, viewers had required an external light source, either from a convenient window or light bulb, or from the vertically-styled light attachment which clips onto the back of the 1946 viewer. The model D viewer was introduced in 1956, and is an illuminated, focussing viewer, which is very much heavier than the simple models. In 1956 the Model E viewer (picture) came out; a brown plastic model which accepts the horizontally styled light attachment; this was later superseded by the beige plastic model "G" (picture). Sometime in the fifties, a new viewer was introduced with built-in illumination, designated the Model F.

At the 1960 Photokina, the European camera, the Viewmaster Mark 2 Stereo Camera, was introduced with an expected price of about £29. This was made by King (manufacturers of the Regula range of cameras) and has Rodenstock Trinar f/2.8 20 mm. lenses and four speed flash synchronised shutter. A diagonal film path permits stereo pairs to be taken on one pass of the film with minimal film wastage. A 36-exposure film accomodates 75 stereo pairs and a 20-exposure film gives 40 pairs.

In 1967 the company was bought by GAF who, for some reason, failed to maintain interest among the buying public. One of the items marketed by GAF was a new illuminated viewer, the model H. Both this and the model D could be operated from the mains, using a GAF transformer. Among the last actions of GAF was the Talking Viewmaster, a viewing system based on the old Viewmaster but with the addition of a small acoustic gramophone with a record attached to the disc at the centre. The Talking Viewmaster viewer has a simple sound system, whereby the record is played through a cheap plastic loudspeaker. Two viewers were made, one in red and white, which was supplied with a sample reel, and one in beige which was supplied in a plastic storage drum with six reels. This cost about £10. For some reason the system never really took off &endash; I suspect because it was not marketed well, as many people have no knowledge of its existence!

GAF also released what is, in my opinion, one of the worst sets of reels I have ever seen -; the set for the Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Viewmaster had not been allocated a position in the Cathedral to take pictures, so to give a 3-D effect a normal picture has been given a surround and caption; the caption in a different plane from the picture. The overall effect is cheap and quite dis-orientating to view. The reels were sold as a gift set with a purple viewer.

Tyco bought the company from GAF and they are re-releasing some of the old favourites (like Thunderbirds) and selling new ones (like Beauty and the Beast).

The latest reels have no centre hole but instead carry a picture in the centre. There has been another attempt to bring out a talking system, this time using some sort of micro-chip.

In the course of Viewmaster development, several simple projectors were made. None of these give stereo projection facilities, and they are difficult to date as they were not advertised in this country in photographic magazines (or, indeed, any other magazines that I can find!) and most Viewmaster literature seems to be undated. Models which I have identified are:-

Junior -; plastic and metal construction with f/3 lens and 30 w. bulb; cost in 1957, £7 10s.

S-1 -; available around 1951, for use in home, classroom or for public shows. Also projector case available for the S-1.

Senior -; metal construction with f/3 lens and 75 w. bulb. Built-in screen pointer.

Standard -; 30 w. lamp; cost c.1965 £5 19s. 6d.

Deluxe -; f/2.8 214 in. focusing lens, 100 w. lamp, on/off switch and carrying handle; cost c.1965 £11 7s.

Deluxe 300 -; f/2.8 214 in. focusing lens, 300 w. bulb, fan-cooled.

Entertainer -; blue plastic body, 30 w. bulb.

411 -; f/2.8 55 mm. three-element focusing lens, 100 w. lamp, marketed by GAF.

511 (Diplomat) -; As 411, but uses 12 v. 50 w. halogen lamp.

Original selling prices are also hard to find, as many Viewmaster leaflets refer potential customers to their photographic dealer for such information.

A 1957 leaflet gives the following prices:

Viewer £1 9s.; Horizontal light attachment £1 9s.; 3-reel packet 15s.; individual reels 5s.; Library box, to hold a viewer and 100 reels £1 2s. 6d.; album, to hold 30 reels 14s. 6d.

A later leaflet, undated but which I know dates from the mid-sixties (as it came with my first viewer, bought new from Woolworths!) gives the following information:

Model G viewer 14s. 6d.; Model F viewer £1 12s. 6d.; Model D viewer £5; Transformer £1; Library box (smaller than 1951 type) 19s. 11d.; album, to hold 30 reels 14s. 6d. with leatherette cover and box or 7s. 6d. with "gay cardboard cover"; Junior projector £4 19s.; Standard projector £5 19s. 6d.; Deluxe projector £11 7s.; Stereomatic 500 projector £115, including case, lamp and two pairs of polarising glasses; polarising glasses, per pair 7s. 6d.; Stereo camera £33 14s.; e.r.c. for camera £3 4s. 3d.; film cutter £6 3s.; packet of six blank discs 9s.

Most of the projectors are common, and fairly low-priced; it is worth waiting to find a really nice example in a box if you wish to collect them. They are generally smaller than most cine and slide projectors. The exception, in both price and size, in the Stereo-Matic 500 which is very hard to find and very expensive (hardly surprising, considering the very high original purchase price).

The viewers are similarly low-priced and easy to find, except the earliest viewers which were not sold in this country. Again, it is worth getting nice boxed examples for a collection, although I like to have one or two less pristine examples for use.

The cameras are fairly hard to find and therefore fairly expensive. In this country, the Mark 2 (European model) is more common than the original camera. It is important, if you want to try to use the camera and mount your pictures, to buy a camera with a cutter. It is very difficult to mount Viewmaster pictures without a cutter/mounting jig (I have spoken to people who have tried).

Reel prices vary considerably, depending on the subject matter. Modern cartoons are generally the cheapest, along with the topographical subjects and non-TV related stories, especially the bible stories. Documentary reels are slightly more collectible; those concerned with transport are the most desirable of the documentary reels. The highest prices are commanded by the original sets of TV favourites such as Thunderbirds, Star Trek, Dr Who and Blakes 7, all of which are collected by Viewmaster collectors and TV science fiction collectors (a large number of people). Reels in good condition and original packets command the highest prices. Reel packaging varies, from the simple blue envelopes of the single reels to the more elaborate three-reel sets. Early sets have a descriptive booklet and three reels, each in an individual envelope. Later sets dropped the individual envelopes and later still the small packet became a large, flat folder containing three reels and very short description. The most recent three-reel sets are on blister packs and a few single reel blister packs also exist (I have one, called Parrots). Talking Viewmaster reels appear to have been sold in sets of three only, packed in a flat box with descriptive booklet. These are not common and command a comparatively high price, as do the Talking Viewmaster viewers.

The Viewmaster system is one of the most imaginative of toys, educational, endlessly fascinating and with plenty of appeal to adults - all I need now is a camera, a cutter, a Stereo-Matic 500 projector, a few pairs of polarising glasses . . .


Further Information

View Master Colour Camera instructions

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