Transition - GAF – 1966-1981
In 1966, Sawyer’s was acquired by GAF, the General Aniline & Film Corporation. The View-Master name was retained, but GAF immediately started selling View-Master reels in new GAF packets. GAF also switched the emphasis of View-Mater reel production from Sawyer’s original lines of travel and scenic reels to new lines of reels featuring movie, TV, sports, and cartoon themes, plus an ever-growing number of child-specific topics. Numerous then-popular and now-classic TV series such as Star Trek, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lassie (with Timmy, not Jeff), Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and The Beverly Hillbillies all became View-Master reels. Likewise such movie blockbusters as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the Poseidon Adventure, and Jurassic Park.
During the GAF years (1966-1981), several additional viewer models were produced:
• the Model J (1974-1996) that was produced only in Belgium and came in even more colors – red, medium blue, yellow, green, beige, black, and dark blue.
• the Model K (1975-1984) that looked very futuristic, was dubbed the “Space Viewer,” and came in red, orange, black, and gold. (A special silver version of the Model K, called the Model K EPCOT, was produced and sold only in 1983 during the opening of EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL.)
• The Model L (1977-present), most of which were and still are red with either a flat orange lever or a large orange knob, although this viewer was also produced in black with a flat orange lever, black with a flat black lever, purple with a flat orange lever, blue, black, and a bunch of special colors for gift sets, including a pink Barbie set and a metallic red View-Master 65th Anniversary set.
Speaking of Belgium, Sawyer’s had opened a Belgium manufacturing plant in 1953. After GAF acquired View-Master, the Belgium operation produced not only the Model J viewer, but also GAF Packet-Books that were distributed in Europe and apparently in Canada since we acquired several of these books from a lady who grew up in Quebec. The Packet-Books were printed on sturdy coated paper with a cardstock sleeve inside the back cover that held the three reels. These books carried the GAF logo on the front and a packet number on the back that usually started with a B, indicating that they were produced in Belgium, and ended with a letter indicating what language the book was written in, such as F for French.
GAF released a special red and white viewer with bright blue handle in 1976 to commemorate America’s Bicentennial and introduced the Talking View-Master in 1971. This model was sold by itself or in a gift pack canister that included reels. It was especially popular with “teeny-boppers” of the time because with it they could not only see their favorite rock groups (think The Monkees, The Partridge Family) in full-color 3D, they could also hear them via a tiny plastic record. One can only wonder about the sound quality as compared to the film quality.
And speaking of film quality, GAF’s subsequent film “innovation” turned out to be a disaster. In 1977, GAF decided to switch to its own brand of film for View-Master images. Bad decision. The GAF film was of such poor quality that the images turned red over time. We own a few of these reels and can personally verify that the images have a pronounced red cast to them. GAF only produced reels photographed with their own film from 1977 to 1981, the year GAF sold View-Master to the Arnold Thayer Group. But believe it or not, collectors actually seek out these esthetically-challenged reels to add to their collections, not only because so few of them were produced, but also because they’re a vintage example of “corporate madness,” a phenomenon with which the world has become all too familiar in the intervening years!
GAF is also responsible for the demise of both the View-Master single reel sleeve and the 3-reel packet, as well as the story folders that had accompanied so many of the earlier reels. Bowing to pressure from retailers for a hanging display format, GAF introduced a new Blisterpack in 1980. This was a long rectangular piece of cardboard with a cut-out notch near the top for hanging on one of those ubiquitous hooks so popular with retailers. The top portion of the card was printed with one or more graphics showing the reel contents and the bottom portion had a clear plastic compartment to hold the reel(s). Most Blisterpacks contained 3-reel sets, although some had four reels, some two, and even a few single reels were sold in Blisterpacks. But while this marketing format pleased the retailers, it presented a major problem for consumers. Once you finally managed to extract the reels from their pack – and we all know what a truly miserable process that can be – there you were with an ever-growing collection of “naked” reels and no way to protect the film. But hey, by 1980 we had pretty much become a throw-away culture, few if any products were supposed (or expected) to “last forever,” and if a little piece of film came loose or was otherwise damaged, you just tossed that reel in the trash and bought another one, right? Ah, the joys of “progress.”