Peep Show

Homemade Project

You can't go to an arcade or antique auction without tripping over ten mutoscopes. But, when was the last time you saw a real peep show machine from the 60's or early 70's. Those are truly rare. Many were in New York where space is a premium and when 42nd street shops discovered no one wanted to pay for these little shows, they threw the machines in the dumpster. Occasionally you see a 3D peepshow appear on eBay, but not often. You never see any of the film machines appear. Check out the article on this project by gizmag

Because of this rarity, most people have no idea what these machines show. They think they are showing some hardcore movie or something like that. Not hardly. Not in the 60's and 70's! The movies in these machines were tame by today's standards, even silly. Today no one would pay 25 cents to watch a black and white film about a minute long of a topless girl chopping wood or dusting her apartment. That is what the peep show films of the 60's were like. They often had around 7 different movies played in sequence and the viewer had to put in more quarters to see the next.

Why did I do this. I don't have the answer to that. Not really. I just know the sleazyness of 42nd street was part of Americana and it has almost been lost even though it was such a short time ago. I have been looking for a peep show machine for years and have never found one from the 60's or 70's that played film strips. That is when I decided I would build one. I based my design on the Midget movies boxes which were as close as I ever found to what I was looking for.

I would say I built the peep show because it represents a part of Americana that has been forgotten even though it represents part of our history only 40 years ago. The sleazy 42nd street was swept away to make room for a
new and more socially acceptable world and in doing so part of our culture was erased. These machines are almost impossible to find today because they are so rare. Almost all of them were thrown in the trash when they were no longer profitable for the operators and, unlike an arcade game, it is not something the average person puts in his or her home gameroom.

Most people are bemused or maybe just confused. An arcade game they can understand because they relate to playing it. A peep show is something most people don't relate to. They cannot mentally place themselves in a time when there were no R rated movies to appreciate what an unusual and ground-breaking device this was socially or how its creation affected free speech in the 1960's and 70's.

Peep shows appeal to those who like the unusual or want something that other people do not have. By today's standards the films are hardly worth note since you can see more intense material on pay TV movies. What
does generate an attraction is the novelty and history behind these contraptions. There is a small cult group of people who still collect and preserve the videos that were used in these machines and who still revel in
finding a new movie of a nameless woman who entertained thousands of anonymous men without ever receiving credit for her work. It is part of history which would be lost otherwise. If I could not save
a piece of this history, at least I could re-create it so it is not lost.

This is a peep show machine I owned. It was made in Europe and showed stereoscope images.

This is a large wall-mounted, coin-operated, UK produced, 3D Peep Show. I guess this is from the late 1950s or early 60s as it takes the old 3p (thruppence) coin. The circular reel takes 40 stereo pairs although your thruppence only lets you see 10 of them before the timer runs out - it would cost you a whole 1/- (one shilling) to see all 40!


Another shot of my original peep show.

You can see a video of that the original machine looks like from another collector's video on youtube. Notice the differences between the machines too:

This is the inside of my peep show. The machine used what I thought was a European version of a standard stereoscope format. I bought a sample original image but it did not fit. I measured some parts and the machine is not the same as the standard stereoscope size but very close. I tried making my own images but that proved impossible. Even if the images had worked, they often cost 14.00 each and I needed about 100 of them so buying them was out of the question. I had a machine that was not usable, not worth restoring, but I still wanted a peep show.

I decided to cut this one up and use parts from it to create a new machine.

I already had the eye viewer. If you were building from scratch and needed a viewer, you could use an old viewmaster from the 60's which was made of bakalite or get a vintage stereoscope viewer from ebay and just use the eye cover part. Those were options I considered.

My machine showed stereoscope images which I could not replace. If you have a machine that shows 3d but you do not have 3d cards, simply change it to anaglyph, you can then print out 3d anaglyph images which are available from Classic Arcade Grafix and put those in your machine. I might have been able to do this to my machine but I really wanted something that would play movies. The solution was to use a computer. With a computer I can play movies and show still anaglyph 3d images.

Now, there would be little point in continuing this project if I did not already have the movies. Fortunately, a company called Something Weird has a huge collection of peep show movies. I bought only a small fraction of their collection on 10 DVDs, which is about 40 hours or so. I also bought some from Alternative Cinema. The movies ranged from the 40's to the very early 70's before the machines started to disappear. I then ripped the DVD's so I had digital files for my computer.


I hacked up an old set of cheap PC speakers for sound. Quality is not important. Most of these original movies had no sound anyway. Some of the restoration videos have music or film camera sounds.

I needed a video player. I looked at several players including winamp, windows media player and settled on VLC because it was easy to install, it would play vob files, and it could be configured to auto play a playlist and also to randomize that playlist on start so every time it starts I get a different set of videos. I also used the VLC hotkey panel to define the skip button to F12 and wired F12 and N for Next to the bottom so I can skip to the next video file or just jump ahead in the current tone. I copied all of my ripped vob files, then searched to delete the backup bup and ifo files plus I deleted any really small vob files which were just menu files. This left me with a lot of vob files(which are really mpeg files) of peep show movies.

I took a pair of anaglyph glasses and cut the sides off. When I want to convert my machine to view anaglyph images(the ones from Classic Arcade Grafix), I just reach in the machine and slide the glasses with red/blue filters in front of my viewer, then use my computer mouse to open a playlist that auto shows the anaglyph 3d images for 5 seconds each. It is very much like an original peep show which showed 3d still images.

I only needed three keys, pause, next video file, skip ahead xx seconds. There was no reason for me to invest in a key decoder for this project so I decided to hack an old keyboard. At first I was planning to trace the matrix and figure out the keys. The small traces made it hard to do so I just ripped out the controller from the keyboard and used a jumper wire to touch off the A and B matrix connectors. I monitored the output with a keyboard key program that identified the keys. The program I used has a 30 day use restriction before you have to pay for it which worked great because I only needed it a few minutes. There are other similar programs which are freeware. I raked my jumper wire over the connections until the keys I wanted showed up as pressed. I then marked their locations and soldered wires there which I will later connect to my next/skip buttons and I will wire the pause/play button to a relay activated by the coin slide.

Here is the program I used to identify which key was being pressed as I jumpered connections.


I also ordered a flexible keyboard. It is great to roll up and keep in the cabinet for times when I need a keyboard.

My plans which I drew up before starting. I estimated the size for everything based on photos of a Midget Movies cabinet. I also used pinball legs for the legs. I already had a used set of pin legs, they were worn and old which I liked because I did not want my machine to look new and perfect.

Here is the keyboard with circuitry in place.

Here I have soldered my wires for keys to the matrix connectors.

I tried a vga to video adapter but it did not work so I had to buy a video card with RCA video out.

I also used a 7 inch monitor from ebay. The 3.5 inch was too small but a 7 inch seemed about right.



The letters were glued to the original box so I had to cut them away with a knife. I used clear silicone to apply them to the new machine.

Here is my box.

I have added the removable eyepiece section.

Here I have added the marquee box.

I was planning to paint it with web paint but all I had was white. I thought I would try it anyway because many arcade games had the white speckle on red pattern. I did not like the result. You can see, the white is just too much. Instead of sanding it smooth, I sanded lightly and repainted to leave the texture.

I liked the result better and will paint it with black webbing when it is finished.


For the marquee, I wanted it to look seedy and red-light-district appropriate. I found some metallic vinyl which was red and used that as my backer. I transferred the artwork from my original 3d peep show to the new one too along with the lettering. I put large LED lamps in the top to light the marquee. It was not lit from behind because the original was not lit from behind and the artwork was on cardboard so I could not light it anyway. Also, lighting from behind was something reminiscent of the late 70s and 80s, not the early70s or 60's when backlit signage was less common.

I plan to add movies from the Irving Klaw collection soon. These were never peep show movies, but they are short and of that quality. If you don't know who that is or why it is so unusual, I will leave that research as your homework assignment.


Here is a close up of the side after I re painted it with black webbing. The black webbing came out very nice. I wish I had painted it a brighter red instead of a maroon, but it still looks good.

I knew I was going to have to take the motherboard out of the computer but did not consider how tight the fit would still be. It took some work to get everything in there.

I replaced the pinball leg feet with rollers which makes it much easier to move. You will notice there is rust on the leg. I did not clean my legs. I wanted them to look old and original so I did not clean them at all.

Take a peep. One problem I did not consider was that the cheap 7 inch monitor I bought does not show anaglyph images well. That means my anaglyph images do not look 3d on it, but they look great on a regular monitor. I think this cheap monitor does not reproduce colors well enough. It also has a number of dead pixels in the middle of the screen. They look like dust. I should have not been cheap and bought a high quality monitor.

I found an old arcade permit and stuck it on the front. it covers up the part in the original artwork that said the coin slot was on the side which it is not on my version.

Ok, enough teasing. Here is the final peep show. Over 40 hours of endless peep shows plus 500 pinup images from the 60's to 1973 and a few from the 20's and 40's. You can't see it well in the photo but for the marquee part I used metallic flake vinyl which looks really cheesy. That is exactly the look I wanted. I wanted it to have the look and feel of the red light district. The vinyl worked really well to achieve this effect.


6/2011 - I was not satisfied with 40 hours of loop movies. How could I have ever thought only 40 hours were enough for a modern peep show? I went back to Something Weird and bought the 42 dvd Big Bust Loops collection and the 11 dvd Super Boobs Loops collections. That adds about 100 hours for a total of around 140 hours of loops from the 50s to the 70s plus the 3d stills plus I added the Irving Klaw collection which is another 8 hours..