Sawyer ViewMaster Model E - Restoring -

The Model E was the last model constructed from Bakelite and had a retail price of $3.00.
It's hard to imagine this today but ViewMaster was considered adult home-entertainment before 1966. The early image reels consisted of exotic travel destinations, architecture and natural wonders. When GAF purchased the company in 1966 the emphasis crossed over to cartoons, movies and children's television reels.


View-Master Model E
Year of Production: 1955 - 1961
Construction: Bakelite 

Today's Value: $5-$10


Cleaning these early view masters is often necessary 30+ years can accumulate a lot of mold and dust.

Supply List:
  •     Lint Free Cloths
  •     Dawn Dish Soap
  •     Plastic Pry Tool.
  •     Brasso Polish (optional)

We'll start with the easy cleaning method first. Simply cleaning the back windows and inner optics will satisfy most users. Start with gently lifting the back window frames. These can be pried with any soft plastic tool. The trick is Wide and Thin otherwise you risk bending the frame. With light upward pressure the frame will pop-out.

Clean the plastic window with alcohol and a lint free cloth. If the windows are in need of major repair or replacement view this article for more information.  

Next dip a foam swab in rubbing alcohol and clean the inner lenses and remove all dirt / residue. 

Inner view of lens

The Complete Cleaning Method:

If your viewmaster is extremely dirty a complete tear-down will be necessary. No screws are in these early viewmasters. The two halves are held together by barbed metal tabs at each corner. Opening the Bakelite models can be tricky since they are prone to chipping.  Carefully pry each corner open and work slowly. A thin plastic pry bar or credit card will help with this process.

Pay careful attention to the original placement of internal parts. Set the metal parts aside and submerge the Bakelite halves in a mixture of Dawn dish soap and water. Soak for 30mins then lightly scrub and rinse the pieces. This is the safest cleaner for dirty or moldy Bakelite. Allow parts to dry completely before assembling.  

Tip: Bakelite can also be polished with Brasso, read more here on the polishing process.

After cleaning prepare the pieces for reassembly.
Remember to pay close attention to the brass bars orientation and spring attachment point.

Spring Attachment Point


Its worth mentioning that a dirty reels shouldn't be inserted into cleaned viewers or vice versa. It is highly recommended to clean both. Read more on Reel Cleaning here.


  1. Thanks for this great article. I have not been able to locate any similar foam swabs locally. Where do you get them?

  2. Also, what about cleaning the metal and brass parts? Is Dawn safe to use on those?


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