Hunting for View-Master merchandise is oddly cathartic. For me at least. Maybe it’s how I unwind and check out, because I’ve spent hundreds of hours wandering through Portland’s antique shops and thrift stores looking for something to add to my collection. Headphones in. Music way, way up. It’s easily one of my favorite pastimes.
Over the years, I’ve developed a loose set of rules for both finding and purchasing View-Master reels and viewers. Unfortunately, this hobby might be pretty specific to Portland, OR, the birthplace of the View-Master. The further out in Oregon you go, the less common your finds will be. Though it’s not impossible. And I still have yet to find anything on the East Coast. That’s not to say View-Master didn’t make it that far. But I’ve found their antique shops value different kinds of collectibles: maritime loot and early Americana.
But, if you’re on the West Coast, and heading out for the day, here’s a couple tips for making the most out of your trip.
Multi-Vendor Thrift Shops Take the Cake
It’s not that single-vendor shops are a waste of time. It’s just that you can drive all over town only spending five minutes at each location. With multi-vendor shops, you can get lost for hours, and it’s fun to learn the personality types of each seller. If you’re going with a single-vendor, keep an eye out for the HUGE shops. This increases your chances.
The Best Units May Surprise You
When hunting, you’ll often come across units that live on either end of the spectrum: people who only collect toys, and people who only collect antiques. I’ve found that neither of these units are actually ideal, which may seem strange (especially considering that View-Master is now marketed as a toy). Here’s my logic:
While toy dealers are great, they often overlook early View-Master reels and viewers because they appeal to such a niche market. While there are some pretty rare models and variants, View-Master rarely sells on Ebay at jaw-dropping prices. Not like some baseball cards, action figures, or comic books at least. So the units with all the toys are often full of just that: toys.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got our old folks selling their brass and fine china. They don’t seem to care too much for View-Master. I’m guessing that’s because it’s below their pay-grade. I mean, we’re talking about Grandma’s best silver after all! That she carried across the ocean in 1902! So yeah, these people have finer things to worry about.
Which brings me to this unit:
Ohhh, man. Isn’t she glorious? Just the perfect amount of junk. This is the kind of unit that you’re looking for: the seller who lives in the center of that spectrum. They deal in some nicer-end items, but they also boast some total crap. And that rack of lunch boxes (center-left) tells you they have some appreciation for pop-culture and collectibles. The more you look, the more you’ll find. And don’t be afraid to dig. It can be easy for reels and viewers to get buried behind books or other large items.
Know a Model’s Value
I’ve been collecting View-Masters for a few years now, so I’ve established my own pricing guide based on what I’ve seen in stores and online. I like to evaluate items based on their age, appearance, function, and a couple other categories. But that feels like a blog post for another time. For now, I think the best rule of thumb is that few items are worth more than $100.
Know Your History
Take the time to learn about View-Master’s history and the many models they produced. This will help you make informed purchasing decision. You might also stumble across some of View-Master’s predecessors.