Collector Spotlight: Rebecca Kilbreath
Describe your collection.
I have no idea how many pieces I have. I don’t track it in that way. But View-Master debuted at the 1939 World’s Fair and is now sold as a virtual reality device you use with a cell phone. I have the first product, the most recent product, and a solid sampling of everything in between.
I have a very nice Model A, which was the model that debuted in 1939 and I have a handful of what are called Gold Foil reels, which are the earliest style reel. My favourite so far is #88, the reel commemorating the 1939 World’s Fair; the only thing that annoys is that it doesn’t feature View-Master’s debut there. One neat thing about View-Master is that you can view any reel in any viewer up until they went “virtual” a few years ago. I have the virtual reality viewer, but I’ve only touched it a couple of times.
One of my favourite items in my collection is the Nations of the World library series. It includes 30 envelopes to store View-Master three-reel sets of countries around the globe and it also features a coin and stamp from the country. I’m working to complete that, and I’m pretty close. I also recently acquired an old Alpine Wildflowers box set that includes the original box, viewer, 10 reels, and a tiny book about the flowers. It’s adorable.
When and why did you start collecting View-Master paraphernalia?
I’ve been collecting for about 20 years. I’ve collected off and on over the years, and I’ve gone through times of actively collecting and times when I’ve been busy with other things (like grad school). I still have my childhood View-Master and some of the reels. I started collecting as an adult when I came across a Model C and some reels at an antique store. I just thought they were charming, and it reminded of how much I liked them when I was a kid. Despite a real passion for pop culture, my collection doesn’t focus on the pop culture reels that were so prevalent in my 1980s childhood. I’m drawn to reels with photos of things and places I’ve never seen before, and places I doubt I’ll ever get to see. From aborigines in Australia on a Kangaroo Hunt to a busy street corner in South Vietnam, I love the window into the past this hobby affords me.
How do you display and store your collection?
My collection is mostly on display in my home office. One nice thing about View-Master is that even if you have a lot of them, they don’t take up a ton of room (unless you’re into box sets, which I’m not.)
What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of View-Master collectibles?
I used to think it was single reel #1305, President Kennedy’s Visit to Ireland, June 1963. It was famously pulled from shelves in the wake of his assassination. That is certainly a very hard reel to find and generally fetches well over $300 from what I’ve seen. There are other reels that are just as hard to find – if not harder, maybe – but crossover interest tends to drive prices up when it comes to View-Master. So, as the years pass, I’ve been surprised at how much single items go for. The 3-D movie preview reels of the 1950s are hard to find and very desirable, so the House of Wax reel is also wildly expensive.
Recently, a rare View-Master packet variant for the rock band Kiss went for over a thousand dollars on eBay. So that might be the new Holy Grail.
There are just so many reels to collect that finding the rarest of them hasn’t been a big pursuit of mine. That said, the more I get, the harder new reels are to come by!
What resources do you use to acquire knowledge about View-Masters or connect with other collectors?
For connecting and acquiring new information there are three key platforms I’ve found beneficial: Facebook, Instagram and eBay.
I belong to an active Facebook group where people share information and it includes people who are more than collectors, they’re like View-Master historians. I like it because I’m always learning something new. It’s also been a good spot to sell duplicates and to trade for things I don’t have.
Instagram has also really enriched my collecting life. Instagram hashtags make it so easy to find people with niche interests. In one case, I befriended an artist in Australia who is also a collector of View-Master. After she posted about getting a rare UK Model B viewer, I told her I desperately wanted one and so she found one for me on eBay but the seller that wouldn’t ship to the U.S., so she bought it and shipped it to me and I paid her back. Those kinds of connections are so invaluable and the kindness and trust of people I’ve never met in person never ceases to amaze me.
Finally, eBay just allows me to see what’s out there, how truly rare an item is, and what current market value is. I also set up searches to alert me when something I’m looking for finally pops up for sale.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting a View-Master collection?
Way back in 2012, I made a pathfinder on collecting View-Master as a grad school assignment. It was an easy A grade for me and to this day people still email me about it and ask questions. It’s how everyone who wants to talk to me about View-Master collecting has found me. I keep it updated, and it’s a pretty good place to start to learn the basics.
View-Master reels were produced for decades and covered a fairly wide range of topics, so I’d suggest starting with something that interests you and branching from there. Buy reels of places you love or places you always meant to see. Collect cartoons and movies of your childhood. There are a lot of low-cost options to get started and it’s a fun hobby to share with others.
Learn more about Rebecca and her View-Master collection.
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