Most View-Master collectors start their collection with a View-Master viewer and a handful of reels that they inherited from a kind relative, or that they rediscovered from their own past. These novice collectors find the small 3D images exciting, entertaining, and they want to find more. After the collecting bug bites, most novices want to know what topics View-Master put on their reels and what types of viewers they made to view them. This online guide will help the collector (and the non-collector who wants to sell their View-Master treasures) identify the more common viewers and their variants. This guide covers the non-talking U.S. viewers. Talking viewers and non-U.S. viewers will be added when we find the time.
For our more organized collectors, here is a chronological listing of View-Master's viewers.
|Model C Light Attachment||1950-1955|
|Model D (#2011)||1955-1972|
|Model E (#2015/#2016)||1955-1961|
|Model E Light Attachment (#2051)||1955-1960|
|Model G (#2014)||1959-1977|
|Model H (#2062)||1967-1981|
|Model L (#2051/#2052)||1977-Current|
|Model M (aka - Push Button) (#2053)||1986-1990|
|Mickey Mouse (#2075)||1989-Current|
|Big Bird (#2087)||1991-1995|
|Model N (#2053) (same stock # as the push button viewer)||1992-1998|
|Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (#2504)||1996|
The Model A was the first View-Master viewer produced (1938-1944). Seven different variations of this viewer were made. The first design viewer had large lenses, was all black, and said "Patent Pending". The second design of this viewer had a patent number, and somewhere during production VM switched to a smaller sized lens. The third design featured thicker ribs to help prevent warping. It also came in an all black version and three that had different colors of speckling, blue, green and redish-brown.
Shown here is the first design (with large lenses) on the left, the more common 2nd design viewer (open to show how the reels were placed in the viewer) on the right, and the 3rd design with blue speckles sitting on top of an early style box. These viewers are usually found warped, but they are still a necessary part of any collection.
The second viewer produced by View-Master was the Model B (1944-1947). This clamshell style viewer used the same principles of loading and operation as the Model A. What made this viewer different was the streamlined design and stronger bakelite construction. Overall, it was an excellent viewer and the warpage problem that plagued the Model A was solved. This viewer, however, was in the spotlight for only two years (1944-1946) before being eclipsed by the "deluxe" Model C which was introduced in 1946. The "standard" Model B remained in the line-up as the basic version until 1948. While most of the viewers were produced black, two other colors were made. Shown here are a black viewer, and a brown viewer with black eyecups. A third viewer, not shown, has a bright blue body with black eyecups. In addition, a black European version with wrap-around eyecups was also available.
In 1946, just two years after the Model B viewer replaced the Model A, View-Master introduced their "deluxe stereoscope" , the Model C. With this new viewer the consumer saw reel changing simplified. This new viewer received reels through the top in lieu of the clamshell design of the previous viewers. No longer was the user required to open the viewer and place each reel on the spindle before viewing it. Now with one simple step you were ready to go! The Model C had a squarer design with octagon stepped eyecups. The rotation spindle was eliminated and the reel was now held in place by pressure from two internal clips that also served as anti-rotation devices. The Model C by far was the most popular viewer and remained in production for ten years (1946-1956) until it was replaced by the Model E viewer. Shown above is the radical new design. The viewer on the left is the more common black version, and the viewer on the right is the harder to find brown version. The other two common colors variations are the two-tone brown version and a black with brown specks.
An alternative to the Sun's light was finally introduced in 1950. By means of a rather large clamping device, the light attachment was secured to the back of the Model C viewer. This accessory was rather bulky and quite heavy when used with batteries. An optional transformer was also offered. Two versions of the attachment exist. One has a picture of the Model C molded on the back and the other the words "Luma View". Both versions are black, and both seem to be around in sufficient numbers, indicating that neither version is particularly hard to find. I don't know if these units were offered simultaneously, but a old-new dealer stock has been found with both versions intermixed in identical boxes. Note the hard to find dealer counter display stand. The Model C light attachment was last offered in 1955.
The View-Lite Illuminator was a widely distributed after-market product that View-Master had to contend with. It was produced in 1950 by the View-Lite Co. of Wichita, Kansas and was specifically designed for use on the Model C viewer. The Illuminator used three clips to fasten it to the viewer body. While it used two batteries, the Illuminator was only about one-half the size of View-Master's light attachment. It is suspected that the attachment was removed from the market after Sawyer's applied pressure to withdraw it, but not before a good number of units were distributed throughout the country. The View-Lite Illuminator is black with a white button on the top and was sold in a light blue and silver box.
In 1955, a rather remarkable viewer was introduced: the Model D (#2011) focusing viewer. It is the only View-Master viewer with a focusing lens assembly. It is also the only viewer which used oblong/rectangular lenses instead of the usual round ones. By reducing the focal length, the Model D viewer provided a magnification of nearly 7x. In addition, it had a more compact built-in light source for either battery or transformer power. Transformers were sold separately, as was usual. There are three versions: standard in black or in dark brown, and a special version made for the "Chinese Art Set", which is fit with blue color correcting filters and a long life bulb. This version also used a special stand, and included lamp switch for an "always on" light when used during long viewing sessions. This unit was only made in dark brown. A note of interest: the introductory price of the standard Model D viewer was $9.75, but the price receded to $6.95 in 1959. In 1965 it jumped to $7.95 and then continued to rise to $12.99 when it was last offered in 1972.
Along with the 1955 introduction of the Model D viewer, a streamlined standard viewer was offered. The Model E viewer was produced as a replacement for the aging Model C. While it still had a more or less square appearance, the harsh corners of the Model C are now much smoother, especially around the eyecups. A wide "V" at the top allows easy reel insertion and removal. This model can be found in either black or dark brown. Pictured on the left is the dark brown version with an ivory knob and light attachment, and on the right is the black model with a red knob.
Accompanying the introduction of the Model E viewer, was the companion light attachment. While it is somewhat bulky, its smooth design compliments the viewer quite nicely. This unit was also made to use either batteries of the optional transformer. It was produced in dark brown with an ivory button, and in black with a red button. Curiously, it was not offered after 1960.
The Model F viewer was similar in concept to the Model D except it did have a focusing feature, nor was its magnification as great. It shares the compactness of the Model D, yet with its bakelite construction and batteries installed, both viewers are rather heavy. This was to be the last viewer to be made of bakelite. For the first time, Sawyer's decided to use plastic lenses instead if glass. The Model F was the only available in dark brown and was last offered in 1966.
In 1959, the Model G viewer was introduced for a very reasonable $1.50. It was also the first plastic viewer to be produced since the Model A ceased production in 1944. Due to its plastic body and lenses, this viewer was extremely light in weight. Over the years, many small changes were made in design and color. During the GAF reign, the diffusers were made smaller and the metal plate and plastic knob were replaced by a one piece plastic knob and plate assembly. Colors changed over the years and there were at least five common combinations. They were: off-white, beige, red, white and blue, red, and blue. The off white viewer is often referred to as the albino viewer. The red, white and blue viewer is often known as the bi-centennial model. The last viewers of this style were offered in the 1984 Trivia Game(blue) and in the 1985 Collector Sets (red or blue). These viewers had the orange all plastic plate/ knob assembly.
The Model H viewer was first offered in 1967. This viewer had a built-in light source similar to the Model D and Model F viewers. This unit, however, was made of lightweight plastic and also used plastic lenses. The earlier versions were beige and had a metal logo plate on the cover. The battery cover snapped into place with clips. The later version was medium-blue with a molded logo (no metal plate). The battery cover was held in place with two screws. The blue version is shown left and a beige model on the right. Consensus is that this model was discounted in 1981.
The Model L viewer was introduced in 1977 to replace the Model G as the standard viewer. It had a modern sculpted design and used a one piece plastic diffuser. The two colors first offered were bright red (#2051) and bright blue (#2052). Both of these viewers had metal plates and round orange ball knobs. This was later changed to a one piece plastic plate/knob assembly. A very rare silver plated version was made in 1979 for a to-the-trade only Toy Fair in New York City. It was boxed with a demo reel depicting items in the View-Master line. A black version was made for special attraction's point-of-sale shops, such as Muir Woods in California and Shenandoah Nat'l Park in Virginia. This promotion was apparently short-lived for not many of these viewers are found. Today an all black version is once again showing up in several special attraction's point-of-sale shops.
Introduced in 1986, the push button viewer represented the first viewer to use a plunger method to change reel scenes. Its magnification is larger than the current standard viewer by about 25%. Aside from its strange configuration, the first design was flawed due to an internal part which obscured part of the viewed image and the diffusers did not work well. The second design corrected the internal obstructions but did nothing to improve upon the poor diffusers. The push button assembly of both versions is noisy and its operation is far from smooth. There were two color choices available: a rose color and a medium blue. Both have yellow push buttons. Because of the relatively poor diffuser quality, I recommend this viewer as a collector piece only.
Ever leaning in the toy market direction, View-Master introduced in 1989 the Mickey Mouse viewer. A smiling multi-colored face has been attached to the current standard (model L) red viewer. Mickey's sunglasses cleverly shield the diffuser portion of the viewer. In 1991, the companion Sesame Street Big Bird viewer was also introduced. Big Bird's bright yellow face also has sunglasses which are designed to conceal the diffuser of a standard blue viewer. Both viewers were available singly or in gift sets with 6 reels each.
The Casper, Batman, and Power Ranger viewers were introduced for a limited time to correspond with the releases of movies starring those characters. Casper came with a purple viewer attached, Batman with a black viewer, & Power Ranger with a red viewer. The Power Ranger viewer is still available.
The latest lighted viewer is both a lighted and a non-lighted (also known as "grab-light") viewer. Through a rather ingenious design, the viewer's light source uses the viewer's own diffusers as reflectors when the room illumination is too low. Some of the early production viewers had alignment problems with the reels not stopping in a true horizontal position. The problem seems to have been corrected in later production viewers. This viewer was recently discontinued.
Other variations of many of these viewers were also made for special events and for advertising promotions. Viewers can be found with stickers that have company names or logos on them, or that are in unusual colors. Many camera and department stores had large View-Master displays, and viewers can be found that still have the anti-theft chains attached to them. Viewers were also attached to various types of permanent displays, the most famous being a large globe with 4 or 6 viewers attached at the equator. Customers would stand around the display peering into the different viewers as the globe rotated.
For many collectors seeking the different variations of viewers is almost as fun as viewing the reels themselves!