Well, I just snipped a bit of the red one (about 1/16" along the width of the film on one end - not noticeable). It burned like a fuse, very fast. I guess the red one is definitely nitrocellulose.
The fact that I have one means I must have a number of them. I will definitely be careful and contact the airlines for more information.
I stand corrected on the 4x5 negs with the paper on the ends. It says in very small print one one end, "Kodak Safety Film". So it is some sort of Kodak 4x5 film. Did they have a quick loader solution back then? These particular ones may be from the 50's, but I'm guessing.
As a control, I decided to snip the end off one of the negs clearly marked "Safety Film". That strip too burned all the way down, but not as voraciously as the red one. And I did have to light it twice. So it looks like old safety film will burn, and sustain itself, but not with the vigor of what I presume is nitrocellulose, which burned and sizzled "like a fuse" right down to the end. The differences are qualitative, rather than a clear burn/does not burn indication.
yeah, they had film packs back then. I think they discontinued them in the mid to late 60s, maybe some old timers can help me out here? the film packs were like the polaroid film packs now, in a similar way, just not instant film. so, you're probably seeing some of the leftover paper interleaving material that was a carrier of sorts for the film. In any case, if it says Safety, then you're in the clear on those sheets.
As for the colors? Well--they can change into some weird colors as the deteriorate. the nitrate goes into mostly a yellow, then amber type color. it also silvers out a bit and takes on a mirror like look in a way. the emulsion can get soft, and sticky. negs can stick together and get all gummed up--you'll never get them apart. It will also smell. The nitrate is like smelly socks or something--I can't describe it. It's different than acetate, which smells like vinegar, hence the term "vinegar syndrome". I've opened up boxes and file cabinets full of these negs before, and been about knocked down to the floor from the odor. It's nauseating and gives you a headache and irritates your eyes and nasal membranes etc. You won't forget it....
Acetate though--it turns that red and blue color and begins to sorta shrink up. It can lose like 10% of it's size over time, and so the base shrivels up and the emulsion is lying on top, and gets wrinkled, or it tries to separate and bubbles up, or forms these spkes of sorts through the film.
both of the bases can show similar signs though--they can both turn these colors and curl up, or become brittle and fall apart--that's why I mean it's like a detective story in a way, trying to ID them correctly.
I'll get back later on--KT
If these negs are on the verge of curling up and disintegrating, what is the best strategy for preserving the images? Should any commercial shop be able to duplicate the negatives? And at this stage, what is the best storage strategy? If the emulsion is going to get gummy, it doesn't sound like my normal Print File negative holders are the right choice. Basically, I'd like to get new copies of the negatives, and keep the originals as long as feasible.
I'm dubious of drum scanning them at this stage, if they are delicate. And I'm not sure my little flatbed will capture the images well enough.
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hey--well, there are a couple of ways to approach them. There's no reason to panic if they look okay and you think you can print them. They need to be monitored a bit and you need to at least separate them from your other negs and prints. The nitrate will harm the others, so it needs to be stored someplace else.
You don't want to seal them up in any way-this rules out plastic sleeves, or metal boxes or the like. Best paper materials would be the microchamber type stuff, that has the zeolite absorbant qualities and then it has mylar type barriers in it as well.It would absorb the offgassing...
they both need to be kept cool and dry. if you seal them up--they tend to "stew in their juices"as they say. the nitrate is just dangerous, though, this way, but if it makes you feel any better, I have hundreds of sheets of my own, in a similar predicament of inherited family stuff. At work, they treat it with a ten foot pole, and isolate the stuff in a special room....
I worry a bit...but I have duped some of them onto sheet film, and printed a good many as well. With care, someone should be able to do this, but if they're beginning to deteriorate, they need to be very careful.
There's a tipping point of sorts, where the deterioration snowballs and goes downhill fast. The trick is to do it before that point, and then wait it out. The acetate--if it shrinks--is toast. It's an expensive salvage job, to get the emulsion off the base. It has to be stripped off and floated onto a new base, our archives has done this, but it's really not practical. they say it costs about 100 bucks a negative. acetate is easier than nitrate, just lower the tgemp & rh.
the s.o.p. then has been to try to slow it down--the decay--by controlling the room temps and relative humidity. then to try to duplicate them either with film or by shooting copy negs of prints. Then try to store them and wait it out. A longstanding practice though, has been to dupe and then destroy. In this case, the nitrate is treated as a hazardous material.
More later if you want--gotta split--KT
The base used for some of the earliest films was indeed, nitrocellulose. It was developed, long ago, as an entry into a contest designed to find a material that could be substituted for elephant ivory in the production of billiard balls. It won.
Nitrocellulose is produced, essentially, from the action of Nitric acid on Cellulose... possibly wood fibers.. or?
We are familiar with it under different identities: "Cellophane", "Celluloid" and interestingly enough, "Smokeless (Gun)powder" - containing other "stuff" to modify burning characteristics.
There is, as with all plastics, a "Flame Test" for identification: Light a strip with an ordinary match. Nitrocellulose will burn evenly with a "clear", yellow flame. It will not explode unless contained. It will be self-sustaining, with very little "smoldering", very little smoke, and very little ash. The burning rate reminds me, somewhat, of ordinary paper. It is quite stable.
Nitrocellulose caused the destruction of quite a few movie houses, in the early days. It was not too healthy a situation to have a considerable amount of the stuff in close proximity to the Carbon Arc Lamps used in the early projectors.
With thanks to the University of Mass. at Lowell, and their basic "Plastics Engineering Classes".
Ed Sukach, FFP.
KT, since I'm on vacation (in Beaufort, North Carolina, for anyone who happens to be nearby) and don't have suitable materials handy, should I keep them just separated and out in the air until I leave (on Sunday), or for this short period would plastic (archival) sleeves be OK? Or should I stack them and separate them with, say, tissue paper, until I get them somewhere where I can deal with them?
Thanks a bunch, this is really turning out to be very helpful stuff!
Hey Chuck--I didn't realize you were so close...I work for the NC Museum of History in the state capitol. One of our museums is down there in Beaufort--the Maritime Museum. I haven't had a whole lot of dealings with them other than working with some blackbeard artifacts and the like for an exhbit we did a few years ago, but it's a cool museum if you like wooden boats.
Originally Posted by chuck94022
Okay--sure, yeah you can leave them in plastic for awhile, it's not like they're going to fall apart overnight. I don't know if this is a great idea if they're nitrate and you plan to travel though. When my own relatives unloaded a few hundred nitrate negs on me--I was in a similar position, out of town, and what I did was to go to an office supply store and bought a big box of cotton envelopes. I sealed these up, and cut them in half--used them as the poor man's paper sleeve....
Actually, I still have some store like this, I hate to admit. I took one of those pH pens you get from Light Impressions, or from University Products etc, and I checked the pH of the paper and it was neutral. There's adhesive in the envelopes that's probably not good, but the negs aren't great either...The good stuff that I was interested in, I set these aside and bought some buffered flip top boxes to store them in. I used LI Apollo 4x5 envelopes for each neg (buffered). This was before the Microchamber stuff became popular--I can't really afford to switch everything out. I don't really use them that much either.
fwiw--I work for the division of museums, that's within the agency that also runs the archives. In Manteo, there's the Outer Banks History Center. You could try to see if they offer any sort of patron assistance, if you still have time. I can't guarantee anything, since I don't work in that part of the department. If the images are of the NC coast, or from any part of the state for that matter, I know the archives would be interested in seeing them. I do a lot of work for the Museum of the Albemarle, up in Elizabeth City actually. They actively collect images of the outer banks as well as the Albemarle Sound and that part of the state. Oh well, that's my pitch. Here are some links.
this is the archive:
there's a link on their site to ours...
anyways, hope you enjoyed your stay here in NC, good luck with the negs and have a safe trip back.
My opinions only, not my employers.
What a coincidence, KT. My grandfather has some of his work in the Maritime Museum here in Beaufort. In fact, they have a model shop named in his honor: the John S. MacCormack model shop. He was known for his ship models. He used to have some of his scrimshaw on display as well, but that has since been taken down. His paintings, sculpture, furniture, and wood carvings are in private collections. We visit the Maritime Museum every time we come to Beaufort (we have a vacation home here, on Front Street).
I've contacted a local commercial photographer, Scott Taylor (who does wonderful coastal images), and if he has time he's going to help by doing some proofs for me.
The envelope idea is great - I'll pick some up. Thanks!