STORY (In Brief)
Vistascreen. Those little 3D
viewers. How did they come about then?
In 1956, 23-year-old Stanley Long was an ambitious young man. After
finishing his National Service with the RAF in 1949, where he had
learned his photographic craft, he worked at a large photographic
Studio in London and then as an assistant to a high profile London
society and fashion photographer. But Stanley was getting itchy feet
and starting to think about striking out on his own. His chance came
when two brothers, Jack and Jeff Spring, who ran the Capital Paper
Company in London, approached him.
The brothers were looking to diversify into
products that used paper and hit on the idea of publishing art books of nude
studies. In the 1950s there was a big market for this type of book, so between
them they set up Capital Studios with Stanley as photographer and, later,
Capital had their studio and darkroom at 16 Soho Square, London and decided to
produce a monthly book of tasteful nude studies printed on quality art paper. The girls
in these books were to be photographed by Stanley. Although this venture proved
quite successful, the trio were still thinking about more products that were
based around using more of the company’s paper.
THE VISTASCREEN CONCEPT
At around this time, the US based Sawyers company had the 3D world pretty much
sewn up with their
system. However their extensive range of subjects
was understandably biased towards the US market and only included a handful of British locations.
So, with overseas travel or
holiday’s way out of the reach of most of the UK population at that time, much of the View
Master output was of limited interest here in the UK. Stanley was convinced that there were
several gaps in the View Master market that could be exploited so, with no
experience in stereo photography, Stanley almost single-handily invented and
produced one of the more commercially successful of all modern 3D systems –
To keep costs down all photographs were to be in black and white and it was
hoped that these 3D sets would eventually replace the local, concertina-style
postcard sets then on sale at seaside and other holiday locations. He explained
his idea to his fellow directors, who both thought it was a sure fire winner and
a set of test photos were taken. The difficult part now would be to make a cheap
but workable stereo viewer of reasonable quality.
Stanley set about designing a stereo viewer and quickly decided it
should be based on the 3D viewer that came with the Coronet 3D camera
(see top image).
However this viewer was fairly high quality, the trick would be to produce
a Vistascreen viewer that could sell for 2/6 (retail) and with up to a 50% discount for
After trying several suppliers, most of whom had trouble producing a
reasonable quality, thin, distortion-free injection moulded plastic
product for just a few pence, a company was finally chosen. After a
few experiments they managed to get the viewer body parts right, but
the problem was now the lenses. Finally, after a few false starts
Combined Optical Industries in Slough, Berkshire, actually came up
with a lens that could be produced by injection moulding at the right
THE STEREO CARDS
A long list of places of interest was drawn up, including caves, zoos,
seaside resorts and other places that day-trippers visited. Also many
stately homes were just starting to open their doors to the public for
the first time and these would prove suitable subjects for a series of 3D
sets. Vistascreen therefore set about selling the idea to the souvenir
kiosks and shop managers at each attraction.
Eventually almost 300 Vistascreen sets
of 10 views were produced, mostly photographed by Stanley, although
other photographers were occasionally used. As time and money were
really limited on each photographic trip, Stanley Long simply could
not afford to spend several days in each location scouting around for the
most photogenic or important scenes. So he simply arrived in town,
went into the first newsagent he found and bought a set of postcards
and a map. Inspired when you think about it!
PHOTOGRAPHY, CAMERAS & FILM
Photography was undertaken in whatever weather conditions prevailed at
the time. Stanley shot regardless. The fact that he only ever used
black and white film meant that inclement weather wouldn’t always show
up and any shots taken in dull conditions could be ‘adjusted’ by
manipulating film development times if necessary.
The quality of the photographs had to be as good as possible to start with as,
by the time the finished product was produced, they were probably fifth
Stanley used a 1920s Rollei Heidoscope stereo camera with a
plate back for almost all his Vistascreen shots - and he still has this camera
today! (see image, left). Around six different plate backs were used, and these could easily be
reloaded later that evening in the bathroom of the hotel or guesthouse where he
was staying. Ilford FP3 plates were preferred because, although slightly slow,
they tended to be less contrasty than the Kodak equivalent at the time. This was
to be a definite bonus as the negatives would need to be copied
DUPLICATING & DISTRIBUTION
Stanley had devised his own system whereby a set of ten shots would fit on a
single glass plate and from there they could easily be duplicated and a
master negative produced, from which the bulk Vistascreen sets could be printed.
The 10 glass stereo pairs were laid on a sheet of P1200 plate film to make a
positive. That in turn would be contacted onto another P1200 plate to make a
master negative. This plate then had the captions stripped in and any areas to remain
blank were covered with photo-opaque paint. The finished plate was then sent off
for printing and cutting. Image, right, is a rare, uncut sheet of views.
The bulk of Vistascreen sales were sold ‘on site’ as a visitor souvenir. A few
extra sales of other subjects were generated by the inclusion of a list of sets
available, which was included in each packet. Sales volumes are difficult to gauge,
but many of the sets proved incredibly popular and Stanley can remember a
particularly large order (of probably several thousand) for the London Zoo sets
when they were launched.
Vistascreen ‘glamour’ photos in 3D are comprised of 11* ‘Miss Continentale’, 3 ‘Art Studies’ and
Models’ sets. These were a slight bone of contention with some freelance agents who sold
Vistascreen sets on commission, but the company had a ready market for the
Glamour sets via their book
publishing outlets and sold them direct (delivered in a brown paper wrapper, no
doubt). Not always listed on the mini catalogue packed with every
Vistascreen set (Miss Continentale has yet to be seen on any printed list) these nude
sets were a mail order success with their glamour book customers. Now
quite rare, original glamour sets are highly sought after and if complete and in mint condition have
been known to change hands for anything up to £25.00 per set.
*11 sets are now known, numbered
from 1 to 11, A
listing mentioning ‘Miss Continentale’ No 11 - Brenda was
reported for sale on eBay in January 2005 and its' existence confirmed
Update - Nov 2008 Unknown set discovered. Set number C86
is titled Irving Theatre (Set One) and features between 3 and 7
nude artists on-stage, presumably in poses from the show. There is no
record of this set in any official list and the fact that this is
marked as Set One may indicate there are more! Opened in the
late 1950s, the Irving Theatre is in Irving Street, WC2, less than a
10 minute walk from the Vistascreen office in Soho Square and is
thought to be London's first Strip Club.
The first selected reprint of the
Vistascreen Glamour Girls from the 1950s in 3D (Vistascreen Art Studies, Series 1) enlarged and
is now available.
A special 3D viewer is required (such as the Loreo Folding Viewer,
esily found on eBay) as these reissued sets
are not compatible with the original, smaller, Vistascreen viewer.
to buy this set, the viewer or other 3D items from our eBay shop or
Email with any
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
For a while, Stanley, in his own words was 'raking in the money'. He was on a director’s
salary of around £17 per week (which in 1950’s was very respectable)
AND a share of the profits. This latter scheme was to be the final
downfall of the company as Stanley seems to have left after a big disagreement over how the
actual ‘profits’ figure was
Without a full-time photographer and with no new
sets being added, the popularity of the system started to decline. The whole
business was finally sold out to Weetabix who continued the production of the
viewers (in cream and then later in red) with their logo on the rear. These were
sold for a subsidised 1/6d plus a special offer token printed on the Weetabix
box. The actual 3D cards were given away inside the cereal box. Although all
Weetabix cards were printed in full colour, their production was of basic
quality, presumably due to the costs constraints of an on-pack promotion.
Stanley Long and his production company
Fayrested now have their own web
featuring stories from his past as well as exciting news about a forthcoming
TV series about movie making.
NEW VISTASCREEN FIND!
I just came across this Vistascreen rarity
- an advertising jigsaw (shame about the missing pieces). Vistascreen advertising material is very
uncommon, but I have never seen nor heard of this before. I guess it
was done as a one-off local promotion as the quality of the card is
very basic, but they still managed to charge 1/6p for it! Any further
Sadly, Stanley Long passed away on 10th