Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Keepa’s Christmas Gift Giving Guide, page 2

Keepa’s Christmas Gift Giving Guide, page 2

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 08, 2009

I loved the old View-Master gadgets and reels — it was pure magic to look into one and see the parts of a picture, whether cartoon or photograph, stand out from the background. I had no idea how they did it, and I wished somebody would invent something that would make the real world look like that.

When I was at BYU (fall semester, 1979, Humanities 101, Norma Brown — I’ll never forget it), I thought I was hallucinating one day when for a brief instant the professor popped away from the blackboard and looked momentarily like she was part of a View-Master picture. It scared me, and I don’t think I heard a word of the rest of the lecture.

When I was 30, I switched to contact lenses from the eyeglasses I’d worn since I was 6. The first lens went into my eye there in the office, and magically the world turned into a View-Master reel. The doctor popped away from the wall, the instruments on the table developed curves and bulk and arranged themselves at different distances from my chair. For the first time in my life, I understood what three dimensional meant, and realized that the rest of you saw the world that way all the time, every day, “which thing I never had supposed.”

I wasn’t around in 1956 when these advertisements were printed, but obviously I’m not the only fan of View-Master magic.



  1. I had totally forgotten about Viewmaster!! What a blast from the past.

    Comment by Alison — December 8, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

  2. My dad had a Viewmaster camera, so I have a lot of reels of family pictures, and a Viewmaster, of course. One time I wanted to get copies made of some of the pictures, so I went into Inkley’s, where I was told that they couldn’t make prints for me. I was bummed out, because there were some cool pictures.

    Comment by Maurine — December 8, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

  3. Are you saying one of your eyes is so bad that you really didn’t have three dimensional vision until you were 30? If so, that is terrible. I’m guessing you were not very good at ping-pong as a kid?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 8, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

  4. Yeah, Jacob, that’s right. I could tell relative position of objects because of size or because one object partially blocked another, but I didn’t see in 3D. Nobody knew it because I didn’t know it was abnormal.

    I suppose I should have made some deep gospel metaphor out of this, about seeing through a glass flatly or something, but I just really love View-Masters!

    That’s a shame, Maurine. There has to be SOMEbody who could make prints for you. Bet you just about anything that my dad could have.

    Alison, we aim to resurrect all kinds of memories around here!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

  5. those viewmasters were fake! all it was was an optical illusion created by your own mind

    Comment by albert milwerne — December 8, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  6. I can’t believe I didn’t have one of those packets—at least the SLC series. I loved the Viewmaster and had many, many, many reels of all kinds of topics.

    For some reason, I remember them being stocked not with the toys, but sort of in the luggage department towards the east exit of the ZCMI at the Cottonwood Mall. Maybe there was camera gear there, too?

    Oh my lost Utah childhood…

    Comment by Mina — December 8, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  7. If it makes you feel better, nobody figured out I couldn’t see in 3-D until I was 18 (after having great trouble learning to drive).

    Comment by Coffinberry — December 8, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

  8. Maurine, perhaps you should try Allen’s Photo Supplies. Take in a copy of the add and demand service!

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 8, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

  9. This is awesome.

    Comment by Christopher — December 8, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

  10. Allen’s on University Avenue in Provo was still around in the mid-70s, but I suspect it’s followed all the other photography supply shops into dusty retirement.

    Viewmasters always seemed the poor cousin of the stereoscope–maybe it was the cheap plastic construction. Stereoscopes used a dual print, rather than transparencies like the viewmaster, and we used to like to try to “see” the 3-D image without using the scope (which forced each eye to focus on the images separately).

    At least some aerial photography during World War II was shot using stereographic cameras. My dad says that after some practice he quit using the stereoscope–he could get his eyes to focus on the two images separately and “see” the 3-D image unaided.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 9, 2009 @ 6:12 am

  11. Mark B., it’s still around:

    Comment by Christopher — December 9, 2009 @ 8:17 am

  12. Good for Allen’s for changing with the times. From brownie cameras and black and white film to Polaroids (didn’t anybody at that company ever wonder what ‘roids might be slang for?) and Kodacolor to everything digital. That takes some savvy business sense to manage that. And, if it’s a family business, some multi-generational interest in keeping the thing going.

    To get back to Maurine’s concern: it shouldn’t be too hard to make a print from the Viewmaster transparencies–but it would likely be expensive to get a professional lab to agree to set up their equipment to work with the format of those transparencies. (The few labs that process film anymore like to have things standard: 35mm film, in rolls or strips of five or six frames.)

    But, what about scanning them? There are adapters sold for flatbed scanners that work with mounted slides and with 35mm negatives. It shouldn’t be too hard to jerry rig (or should I return that to its nautical roots and say “jury rig”?) one of your own to fit the format of the Viewmaster transparencies. Of course, to keep the 3-D effect you’d have to print (or show on your screen) the two matching images, their centers separated by 65 mm, which apparently is the average distance between the two eyes. Good luck!

    Comment by Mark B. — December 9, 2009 @ 9:06 am

  13. I never realized these were intended for adults. My only experience was with the red toy versions with Disney-themed reels.

    The science behind the illusion is that the two photos are taken several feet apart, which forces your eyes to focus slightly differently. (Objects closer to the camera appear to have moved more.) The difference in your eye focus is interpreted by your brain as depth perception–which is the same reason you can’t get depth perception with only one eye.

    So…#2, you could probably get a print made, but it would be just one of the pair of images. Maybe they thought you wanted copies made of the actual Viewmaster reel. THAT may be more of a trick.

    Comment by Clark — December 9, 2009 @ 9:17 am

  14. Whoa, now I’ve got to shovel through the piles of my stuff at my Grandma’s house to see if her mom had the sacred grove along with Yellowstone and Yosemite. I’d completely forgotten about that cold, black View-master-goodness! I know Grandma would be a fan of this site if she didn’t think discussing anything church-related without a member of the bishopric in the same building was a mortal sin. She did enjoy the story about Brigham Young’s swimming pool though (since she didn’t know it came from the Godless internet). Maybe I’ll tell her you’re a subsidiary of Desert Book 😉

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — December 9, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

  15. Some in my circle would think that Deseret Book was eviler than the Godless Internet! But whatever calms Grandma’s worries … 😉

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 9, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  16. Mark B.,
    I did make a template so my scanner could scan dad’s big square slides. I hadn’t thought to do it with the Viewmaster slides. Thanks for the idea.

    Comment by Maurine — December 9, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

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