Over the years Tru-Vue changed the colors and styles of their film boxes to indicate to customers that something had changed. Frequently it was just a marketing ploy to get people interested in what was "new", however, for collectors some of the box styles will help them to more quickly identify types of films that they might be looking for. Although there were many minor differences in box designs the photo below shows the 7 main style changes that most collectors use for identification.
From left to right in the photo above are:
Dating the boxes is a little tricky because there are no printed dates on the boxes, and Tru-Vue would would sometimes put films with older production dates into newer boxes (and sometimes collectors or sellers will mix different films with different boxes!). However, the general timeline is as follows:
There were also several variations in the different style boxes, which probably could identify the dates of the films even more specifically, but because of the above problems they are probably not of much help to the collector. It is the films and not the packaging that collectors are most interested in. With a few exceptions (see For the collector below), collectors do not pay premiums for specific boxes, only that the film does have its correct box, and that it be undamaged (if possible).
I enjoy collecting Tru-Vue, and for me discovering the details can be a very rewarding part of the process. Hoping that you are interested too (otherwise, why would you be reading this?), I would like to share a few of the details that I think the intermediate collector should know.
The biggest variations in Tru-Vue film boxes are seen in the end flaps. The photo below shows the major changes in the flaps, so refer to it as I discuss the differences.
The top row of end flaps (from left to right) shows the progression of changes Tru-Vue made for their first film boxes (the "blue" boxes) from early 1933 to early 1935.
The very first boxes were bright red across the title end flap, and had the film title hand stamped in the white area at the bottom (first end flap in photo). Films in these boxes are important to collectors because they were the very first (always more collectible) and look different than the following releases. There are two frames on all Tru-Vue films that are not paired to another frame and are not used for stereo viewing. They are the second frame from the start and the second frame from the end. On most Tru-Vue films these frames are white (or clear) with the second frame from the beginning showing the title (and in later films the number), and the second to last frame showing the date that the master was made (when more than one master was being made on that date a letter was also added). On the first films these frames are black.
After this first batch sold out Tru-Vue changed the title flap by removing the red coloring and stamping the name in the middle (second end flap in photo). Films from this point on had the titles printed on the second frame, and the master production date printed at the end to help their employees identify the correct films.
As some title names got longer, in 1934, the blue bars were dropped to make a larger printing area (third end flap in photo).
All of the blue boxes have the end flap opposite the title end flap colored red similar to the first title end flap, except with a "No." instead of "SUBJECT" pre-printed there. I have never seen any numbers or information printed on this end flap, so I assume that it was a cataloging idea that never made it on these earlier films.
The major red box end flaps are depicted in the second row of the photo. As mentioned before, these become harder to date because Tru-Vue would put earlier production films into later style boxes. The first of these red boxes were very similar to the last blue boxes, but of course were red and white instead of blue and white (first end flap in second row).
Around late 1936, Tru-Vue switched companies that made their boxes, and a new look took place that replaced the more natural toned white with a bright white (second end flap in second row). They also stopped hand stamping the titles and began machine printing them.
Finally, in early 1938 Tru-Vue changed their red box design by making the "SUBJECT" heading larger (third end flap in second row), and they began printing the titles on both end flaps. This made it easier for the employees to sort films, which saved time (which equals money). An added benefit for us collectors is that people tend to open the boxes from their title ends, so the title end got all of the wear and frequently fell off. The newer boxes with titles on both ends were not only opened on one end and do not have this problem as much as the older boxes.
Mid 1939 brought a new viewer design along with a new packaging design that was also duplicated in the film boxes. The alternating silver bars on the box look like a bit like a piano key board, hence the nickname. The first boxes had the titles printed in red with no film number (first end flap in third row), but by late 1940 they had switched to black ink and numbering all of their films (third end flap in third row).
The center end flap in the third row belongs to an oddity in the Tru-Vue boxes (it can be better seen in the center of the top photo of boxes), the albino, or all white box. This box was used during the War when shortages of printer's ink interrupted supplies of the silver piano boxes. I have seen many different titles in these boxes with varying master film dates, and they do not affect value either up or down to collectors.
After the War Tru-Vue wanted a more modern look for their products and began experimenting with different colored viewers. A company by the name of Sawyers had a stereo viewer whose 7 picture reels were becoming a major competitor. One minor way for Tru-Vue to bring costs down was to drop the silver printing on their film and viewer boxes (first end flap in fourth row).
By 1948 View-Master sales were really dipping into Tru-Vue's market, so Tru-Vue made several changes to try and be more competitive. The first was by adding new titles to their catalog. There hadn't been many new titles added in the previous 10 years, and old customers needed new titles if they were going to stay customers. About this time Tru-Vue changed the color of the ink on the end flaps from red to blue (second end flap in fourth row), so most of these newer titles are found with this variation of box.
In about 1950, Tru-Vue in an effort to save money began shortening their films from 14 stereo pairs (or frames) to 10. These films are different from their 14 frame parents, and are sought by collectors. About this time Tru-Vue also changed the title stamping machine to a larger sans serif font (third end flap in fourth row).
Another production change that Tru-Vue made in 1949 was the introduction of color films. At first they used the white piano key boxes and after the titles marked "in color" (first end flap in bottom row). This only lasted a few months until Tru-Vue was able come out with an entirely new box design in red blue, and yellow for their color films (second end flap in bottom row). Since they were only made for a few months the "in color" white piano key boxed films are rather rare, and collectors will pay premium for them.
Unfortunately, it was too late for Tru-Vue to make a come back in the stereo transparency market and they sold out to their competitor Sawyers in the winter of 1952. Sawyers moved all of the machinery and remaining stock to their Beaverton, OR facility, and began to set up for production. However, they decided that the films were too costly to produce, and they simply sold the remaining stock. There were a few commercial contracts for advertising films that Sawyers did produce, and they packaged these films in a yellow and blue with a new style logo, and the new factory location (Beaverton, Oregon) on the side.
I know this article was a tad long, and discussed some rather trivial aspects of Tru-Vue history, however, it's knowledge of the trivia that helps the collector make wiser purchases, develop more interesting collections, and expand their collection with lesser known variations. With that in mind, here are some instances where Tru-Vue collectors do pay extra just for the boxes.
When Tru-Vue decided to expand their film catalog in the late 1940's, they also decided to renumber some of the older titles that they were keeping so that they would be grouped more logically in the new catalog. Unfortunately, they had just started getting in their new boxes when it was decided not to re-edit these classic black and white titles, and shoot new color ones instead. The results were that some of the black and white films will show up in a box with a different catalog number than normally seen. The films themselves have the original catalog numbers, so any premiums paid are strictly for the boxes.
Tru-Vue did occasionally update some of their films, and in the process would also change the titles. However, there were a few films where Tru-Vue changed the title on the box, but not the photos on the film inside. For example, True-Vue had a popular film film in their Colorado series of Cheyenne Mt. and Broadmoor. When Tru-Vue started numbering their films, they changed the title (both on the box and on the film) to Will Rogers Shrine (I believe this was because of the increased interest in the famous humorist after his recent death in a plane crash). The photos are all the same between the two titles, just the titles were changed. Most collectors do want the two versions in their collection just because of this name difference.
Occasionally, a batch of films would go out without the title being printed on the box end flap. Although novel in appearance, I do not believe that collectors pay any more for films in these boxes.
When Tru-Vue started selling films and viewers in souvenir sets (first for Fred Harvey, then others), they made the viewer boxes so that they would hold 6 films even though the sets had fewer titles in them. This was a convenient style to manufacture, and customers would often purchase other films to fill these voids. I am not sure who complained about the empty spaces in the sets, but in the early 1940’s Tru-Vue began filling these spaces with boxes titled “Empty”. At some point during WWII Tru-Vue stopped making the souvenir sets, then switched to other style set boxes after the War. These “Empty” boxes were not made very long and were frequently thrown away by customers, so are rather scarce. This is one example where collectors are paying strictly for the box!
I have skipped over some very minor variations in the Tru-Vue film boxes, but hopefully have covered all of the major ones. If you notice any major omissions in this article, please let me know.