Sydney Brey, Stereoscopic Toys

Sydney Brey collects stereoscopic toys. In this edition of Collector Spotlight, Sydney details how a visit to an antique store unexpectedly served as the inspiration for her collection and she shares why a particular reel featuring the cast of Bonanza is her personal favourite.

How do you describe your collection?

The collection started with just View-Master toys. The majority of the collection is still View-Master, but, overall it’s a stereoscopic toy collection. I have a stereoscope and stereoscope cards from the 1890s, Tru-Vu stuff mostly from the 1930s, and Radex from the 1950s and ’60s — they were called stereo stories.

I have 11 View-Master viewers, five Radex, and a Tru-Vu viewer with library case.

I have no idea how many stereo images and reels I have. I do know that I’ve scanned, edited, and archived on my blog a little over 800 individual stereo images, but that’s probably just a tiny fraction of my entire collection.

When and why did you start your collection?

It was during my freshman year of college, about seven years ago.

Over the summer, my mom kind of dragged me to an antique store. I had always been interested in Disney and Disneyland memorabilia and history. I actually had no idea what a View-Master was — they weren’t really a popular toy when I was a kid, I think they had kind of faded away by then. I had never looked through one. I saw one at the antique store — my Model E viewer, actually. I just happened to look through the viewer and it was the Disneyland Main Street reel from 1956. I just loved it. It looked so cool — and I already loved Disneyland.

I begged my mom to buy it for me. I needed this. Once I got home, I immediately went to my dad and asked him to let me use his flatbed scanner. I wanted to see if I could scan the images because they were so cool and I couldn’t find them anywhere online. I had to share these. That kind of started that part of my collecting and archiving.

From there I started hunting for more — going to flea markets, antique stores, and places like that. That really started antique collecting in general for me because I have a bunch of collections now. But, the biggest one is still the View-Master stuff, it’s my primary collection.

How do you display and store your collection?

The viewers are kind of chunky so I display them throughout my room. They’re not in any sort of order — I just like having them dispersed with my other antiques. I like the way it looks — it’s aesthetically pleasing.

The reels, packets, and paper goods are in binders with archival-quality slip folders that are organized by topic. The slip folders are used in photography for things such as film negatives — I find them the perfect size for storing reels and for protecting them from being exposed to the light. Especially some of the newer View-Master reels — the ones made in the ’70s and ’80s when they stopped using the nice Kodachrome film — the film can turn red easily when exposed to light so I keep them in the dark recesses of my room. Any kind of moisture will also destroy the reel.

The bulk of my reel collection would be related to the topic of travel. That’s how View-Master really got started — as a way to advertise travel. I have reels of the United States, Japan, Holland, and other international travel destinations. I also have reels featuring dioramas that were 3D models and maquettes that were made mostly during the ’50s and ’60s — and some in the 1940s. They feature Christmas scenes and lots of Disney characters. Bambi is one of my favourites. It’s just gorgeous. I have one binder that’s just Disney, Disneyland, and Walt Disney World.

What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collection?

One of the most interesting things in my collection is a reel from the Bonanza television series. The packet came out in 1964. In one of the photos on the first reel, the entire cast decided to show the middle finger to the camera. The photo made it through production and it wasn’t caught until after it was already being sold. When they did eventually notice it, they released another version but I have an original where they are flipping off the camera. I think it’s hilarious. During the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, someone would go onto television and movie sets to take 3D stereoscopic photos to make reels. There’s The Flying Nun, Bonanza, The Mod Squad, and stuff like that.

I really love the View-Master gift set boxes, but they are huge and I just don’t have room for them. I do have one featuring Roger Rabbit that I received as a birthday present years ago. I love it — it’s so cool. I would also love a Model D View-Master. It’s considered by collectors to be the best one ever made.

I also love the personal stereo reels. View-Master used to sell stereoscopic cameras and film so people could create their own reels. The cool thing about personal reels is that they are one of a kind — they are someone’s family photos. I think personal reels add another layer to the collection.

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a similar collection?

I think View-Masters are one of the easiest things to collect because you can find them everywhere — they’re pretty common in places such as antique stores and flea markets. It’s an easy collection to start.

I suggest looking for a subject that interests you. One of the coolest things about View-Master is that they made so many different packets and reels. If you have an area of interest like Disney, sports, travel, or world fairs, you can find reels for those. You could really cultivate your collection around a sub-genre of interest.

There are so many options available for building your collection.

See more of Sydney’s collection and archives on The Vintage View-Master.

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