Mid-Century 35 mm Filmstrip Stereo Viewers

written for the stereosite by Keita Wangari, USA

3D film­strip view­ers are a fam­i­ly of stereo view­ers that gained promi­nence in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. In fact, it was a small film­strip view­er called Tru-Vue that re-intro­duced 3D view­ing as a mid-cen­tu­ry pas­time, made it more afford­able than ear­li­er stere­o­scope sets, and paved the way in the hearts and minds of con­sumers for the pop­u­lar 3D reel & card view­ers that would come lat­er. For this rea­son,  Tru-Vue has often been called “the miss­ing link” in stere­oscopy. Although Tru-Vue was the most com­mer­cial­ly suc­cess­ful film­strip stereo view­er in the Unit­ed States, maybe even world­wide, it wasn’t the first. Here, in chrono­log­i­cal order, I present some of the most inter­est­ing mid-cen­tu­ry film­strip view­ers, includ­ing those that came before Tru-Vue, co-exist­ed and com­pet­ed with Tru-Vue and those that fol­lowed much lat­er. The scope of this arti­cle doesn’t include 3D view­ers like Stéréo Alain, Celde, Pen­do­plast and Stereo-foto that use stereo trans­paren­cies in a roll format.

Homéos, 1910’s

Dat­ing to around 1914, this 3D film­strip view­er is an acces­so­ry to the Homéos stereo cam­era (which is said to be the world’s first 35mm stereo cam­era) and was cre­at­ed by the French indus­tri­al­ist Jules Richard who helped spread stereo pho­tog­ra­phy to the mass­es with the pop­u­lar Véras­cope line. The Homéos view­er is a small wood­en view­er that can be found with dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions on the design. One has film can­is­ters on the side to hold the film, a long han­dle under­neath that rotates the film and a lever to adjust the lens­es. Anoth­er can be found with­out those fea­tures and still anoth­er can be found where the eye­pieces are shaped differently. 

2 styles of the Home­os Film­strip Stereo Viewer
See more pics of the Véras­cope Homéos.

Hollywood Filmoscope, 1920’s

In 1929, an ad in the L.A. Times adver­tised the first show­ing of the Hol­ly­wood Fil­mo­scope, “a new device that moves a series of views on motion pic­ture film before your eyes in plas­tic relief.” It sold for $2.50 with extra films going for 50 cents. All 15 films avail­able for it were Hol­ly­wood-relat­ed. Although this small met­al view­er says Hol­ly­wood on it, an arti­cle in the San­ta Ana Reg­is­ter dat­ed March 15, 1929 stat­ed that a Lagu­na Beach, CA com­pa­ny called Crafts­man Stu­dios signed a con­tract to pro­duce 200,000 Fil­mo­scope devices. Accord­ing to that arti­cle, the device should say “Made in Lagu­na Beach, Cal­i­for­nia” on it but I’ve not seen any with that word­ing. Patent was applied for in 1928 by Andre Bar­laiter and grant­ed in 1931. The device is rare and the films are extreme­ly rare.

Hol­ly­wood Filmoscope

Colleen Moore Magic Theatre

Colleen Moore was a famous silent movie star with a pas­sion for build­ing doll hous­es. In the late ’20s, she spent today’s equiv­a­lent of $7M to build an elab­o­rate doll­house. In the 1930’s, the Mag­ic The­atre view­er and its accom­pa­ny­ing film served as an adver­tis­ing piece for the doll­house. The card­board ver­sion con­sists of 2 sep­a­rate pieces — one piece is insert­ed com­plete­ly inside the oth­er. The wood ver­sion, which may be an ear­ly pro­to­type, is one piece. A com­plete set with intact view­er, film, and brochure, all in good con­di­tion, is rare.

Card­board 2‑piece ver­sion of Colleen Moore Mag­ic The­atre Stereo Viewer
Wood­en 1‑piece ver­sion of Colleen Moore Mag­ic The­atre Stereo Viewer

DeVry, 1930’s

This view­er has ties to today’s DeVry Uni­ver­si­ty and at least one of its films has ties to the Olympic swim­mer Jam Handy. The DeVry stereo view­er out of Chica­go was cre­at­ed by the movie pro­jec­tion com­pa­ny DeVry Corp which was found­ed by Her­man DeVry. It com­pet­ed with Chica­go-based Tru-Vue by also sell­ing films of the 1933 Cen­tu­ry of Progress World’s Fair. In addi­tion to the 6 films for the world’s fair, DeVry part­nered with the Jam Handy Pic­ture Ser­vice (also out of Chica­go) to pro­duce a 56-frame com­mer­cial film for Goodyear. Besides being an Olympic swim­mer, Jam Handy’s com­pa­ny was well-known for pro­duc­ing tons of train­ing films for the mil­i­tary and auto com­pa­nies. As for the tie to DeVry Uni­ver­si­ty, in 1931 the same Her­man DeVry found­ed DeFor­est Train­ing School (named after his friend), it was renamed DeVry Tech­ni­cal Insti­tute in 1953, then renamed DeVry Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy in 1968, then came part­ner­ships, stock, acqui­si­tions and a DeVry Inc came to be, then a DeVry Edu­ca­tion Group and some­where in the mix DeVry Uni­ver­si­ty was born. 

DeVry Stereo View­er with 56-frame film­strip adver­tis­ing Goodyear

Novelview, 1930’s

An ad in the Day­ton Dai­ly News dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 26, 1939 announced “the amaz­ing ‘Nov­el-view­er’ as “a new sci­en­tif­ic mar­vel” that could be obtained, along with the Trea­sure Island film, for 10 cents plus one seal from a 1 lb can of Coco­ma­lt. Like DeVry, Nov­el­view (also known as a Movi­escope) was yet anoth­er com­peti­tor to Tru-Vue and was pro­duced by the Nov­e­l­art Com­pa­ny in New York. There are approx­i­mate­ly 65 unique film titles, the rarest and most valu­able being a series of base­ball films. There are 2 ver­sions of the view­er — one with a sil­ver face­plate that slides in and out to advance the film and one a brown face­plate and a knob to advance the film. The sil­ver ver­sion can usu­al­ly be found as part of a radio pro­mo­tion pack­age adver­tis­ing Jack Armstrong’s Jun­gle Adven­ture. The film, fea­tur­ing Jack Arm­strong in Africa, was a pro­mo spon­sored by Wheaties on the Jack Arm­strong radio show. A com­plete ver­sion of that pack­age with view­er (not rust­ed), intact film, brochure, and box is hard to find. 

Sil­ver Nov­el­view film­strip view­er with slide advance
Brown Nov­el­view view­er with knob advance

Tru-Vue, 1930’s

The Tru-Vue film­strip stereo view­er was pro­duced by Rock Island Bridge & Iron Works in Rock Island, Illi­nois, Unit­ed States. As men­tioned ear­li­er, Tru-Vue ush­ered in a whole new gen­er­a­tion of 3d view­ing. I could spend 10 pages going through its his­to­ry, mar­ket­ing, and the evo­lu­tion of its view­ers in the decades before and along­side View-Mas­ter. How­ev­er, in the inter­est of space in this arti­cle, I’ll just high­light a few things and then write a sep­a­rate arti­cle just on Tru-Vue. Joshua H. Ben­nett invent­ed the first Tru-Vue stere­o­scope after exper­i­ment­ing with the con­cept for many years and brought the idea with him when he came to work for Rock Island Bridge & Iron Works in 1933. Orig­i­nal­ly, the device was used to doc­u­ment and show­case the dam being built over the Mis­sis­sip­pi riv­er but the open­ing of the 1933 Cen­tu­ry of Progress World’s Fair in Chica­go pre­sent­ed a whole new mar­ket­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty that they took advan­tage of. Tru-Vue would go on to cre­ate numer­ous styles of view­ers, over 400 con­sumer films and many com­mer­cial films. They would even­tu­al­ly lose busi­ness to Sawyer’s View-Mas­ter and become acquired by them. 

Mat­te fin­ish Tru-Vue view­er in inlaid wood­en gift boxed set

True-View, 1950’s

The ele­phant in the room: almost an exact copy of the 1940’s Tru-Vue stereo view­er is the dif­fer­ent­ly spelled “True-View” film­strip view­er from S.E.L. (Sig­nalling Equip­ment, Ltd) out of Eng­land. There are a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent the­o­ries as to how they came to pro­duce exact repli­cas of Tru-Vue’s view­er, pack­ag­ing, instruc­tion sheet — every­thing! — with­out suf­fer­ing harsh con­se­quences from Tru-Vue. I dis­cov­ered a new clue in a 1949 arti­cle where Tru-Vue’s chief sales rep Fred B. Ingram stat­ed, “Eng­land is out at the moment, because of the pound deval­u­a­tion. Pre­vi­ous­ly, Lon­don was one of our big for­eign mar­kets.” Giv­en that par­tic­u­lar insight, it makes sense that a “dif­fer­ent” ver­sion would sud­den­ly appear in that mar­ket and quick­ly cap­i­tal­ize on the absence of the orig­i­nal Tru-Vue by visu­al­ly dupli­cat­ing Tru-Vue’s assets. Their films are dif­fer­ent though — a set of 30 film­strips focus­ing on Lon­don scenery, the Betram Mills’ Sil­ver Jubilee cir­cus, British rail­ways and oth­er Eng­land-relat­ed subjects.

Tru-Vue view­er (left) and True-View view­er (right)

Verascope F40, 1940’s

Out of France in the late 40s & ear­ly 50’s, this beau­ti­ful film­strip view­er was a com­pan­ion to the F40 cam­era. It takes in light from a dif­fuser on its top and has a revers­ing prism behind each lens so you can view image pairs in 3D direct­ly from the cam­era, with­out hav­ing to cut, flip and mount the images. The first ver­sion was mahogany & chrome. A lat­er ver­sion was made from black bake­lite and was designed to com­plete­ly con­tain the film­strip inside the unit. Both could be mount­ed on a stand which is extreme­ly hard to find today.

F40 stereo view­er (mahogany wood)
F40 view­er (black bakelite)

Sightseer, 1950’s

This small bake­lite stereo film­strip view­er from API, Ltd in Eng­land is fair­ly hard to find, as are the films. The view­er came in at least 3 col­ors that I’ve seen and there are about 204 Sight­seer films rang­ing in top­ics from city scen­ics (Oxford, Lon­don, Can­ter­bury, Edin­burgh, etc.) to Loco­mo­tives, Madame Tus­saud and a Dog Show.

Sight­seer stereo  film­strip viewer

Pan-Pet, 1970’s

Jump­ing a cou­ple of decades ahead to the ‘70s, Japan host­ed its first world fair in Osa­ka in 1970 called Expo ’70 — the theme was Progress and Har­mo­ny for Mankind. Thanks to Gakken in Japan pro­duc­ing this plas­tic panoram­ic film­strip view­er, we can see panoram­ic views of the fair in 3D! In addi­tion to 5 series of films from the Expo, Pan-Pet pro­duced films on golf, trains and nudes.

Gakken Pan-Pet panora­ma stereo viewer

3Discover, 1990’s

Last­ly, we’ll again take a 2‑decade jump to the 90’s to take a look at this the bat­tery-oper­at­ed, car­tridge-based, panoram­ic stereo film­strip view­er 3Discover by 3D Vision in Cana­da. You can advance the film in either direc­tion using the but­tons on top of the view­er and it makes a cool, and odd­ly sat­is­fy­ing, whirring sound as the pic­ture changes. There are over 20 car­tridges avail­able, cov­er­ing sub­jects from trav­el to the solar sys­tem to insects to Celine Dion and the qual­i­ty of the col­or images is superb.

Front view of 3Discover panora­ma stereo viewer
Car­tridge-less view of 3Discover
Keita Wangari (Cupertino, California, USA)

My love of stere­oscopy, which is focused on the view­ers rather than the images, start­ed when I stum­bled across a Cen­tu­ry of Progress World’s Fair Tru-Vue view­er in an antique shop 3 1/2 years ago and I’ve since amassed a large col­lec­tion of stere­o­scopes from all over the world, most­ly from the mid-cen­tu­ry time peri­od (1935–1965). I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly fond of brand­ed 3D view­ers used for adver­tis­ing, fold­ing 3D view­ers, card­board 3D view­ers, and mid-cen­tu­ry 35mm stereo film­strip view­ers like Tru-Vue, DeVry, Nov­el­view, Fil­mo­scope, and Sight­seer.

Web­site: www.vintageviewers.com
Insta­gram: 3dcollector