Old negative discovery

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Jim Chinn, Nov 8, 2003.

  1. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

    Sep 22, 2002
    Omaha, Nebra
    Multi Format
    Yesterday was one of those days that serendipity was in the air. I needed to make some repairs to an old sink in my house and of course the parts are no longer available at most hardware stores. There is a store that carries a lot of old hardware and plumbing supplies that I had never been to. Next door is a curiosity shop that I decided to take a quick walk through. In one corner is a stack of the first 20 issues of a periodical called Scenes and Sights of the World, published in 1893. Almost every one in pristine condition. Each issue has 16 full size plate reproductions of architecture, art, landscape from all over the world. Very cool.

    I bartered for the magazines and talked to the owner about cameras and photography. He told me to hold on for a minute, disappeared into the dusty back room and returned with a candy tin that looked like it was from the 30s. Inside is about 320 2 3/4" x 4 3/4" negatives. they lookded to be in remarkable shape and I asked him if I could borrow a few and see how they printed. They look great and although the negs I have do not reveal any precise dating, they show women in late 20s early 30s dress, steam operated machinery being used to lay railroad track and model As.
    Not only a treasure trove of vernacular photography, but a sort of detective mystery to try to find out who, what where when. Considering there are over 300 negs, there should be a lot of clues. These also look to have been made by a farily accomplished photographer or someone who was very judicious about what he kept. not a realy badly composed neg of the ones I have seen, some sightly over or underexposed but all within the range of a good print.

    He wants me to contact print them all and then I will make enlargements of selceted images he chooses. He wanted to take them to a lab in town who would scan and print them digitally but I talked him out of that. I mean vintage negs at least should be printed on real photo paper. So we agreed on a price per contact sheet and print and he agreed that I could reproduce any of the images for my own use.

    One question I have, could these be Nitrite based negatives? they are not brittle but do have yellowing, although it is uniform on the neg and could be a result of the type film or processing of the day. How do you tell? I did explain to him the dangers of nitrite films and that he would need to have them copied onto new film, something beyond my capabilities.
  2. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

    Sep 6, 2002
    Large Format
    They most likely are nitrocellulose based film. Acetate films did not come until much later. If they are not brittle dont worry about it, they should be fine.

    Of course a way to test is to snip a small part of the negative and IN A SEPARATE room light it up, if it burns fast, you know for sure.

    If the stain is uniformly yellow, it is most likely the processing done, they used stanning developers almost exclusively at that time.

    Have fun and post some of the images.
  3. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Ipswich, Mas
    Medium Format
    True ... the "burn" test is an fairly effective way to identify plastics.

    Nitrocellulose is (probably) the *first* of what we call "plastics". It was developed by an entrant into a contest seeking an alternative to ivory, used in the manufacture of billiard balls.

    Other names for nitrocellulose were "cellophane" and "celluloid".
    The stuff is definitely flammable. When ignited with an ordinary cigarette lighter or match, it will burn with a clean, white flame, with very little ash residue.

    It is also the principle ingredient in "smokeless" (gun) powder, which is not all that dangerous to have around. It will not explode (read: burn *very* fast so as to create a LOT of pressure), unless tightly contained, as in a rifle or pistol chamber.

    I checked: the roll of Ansco Plenachrome (although it says "chrome" it is, in fact, a black and white negative film) DId have a nitrocellulose base.

    Many of the old-time movie theaters burned down; having a roll of flammable nitrocellulose in close proximity to a carbon arc lamp, or *very* hot tungsten lamps was an "iffy" proposition, to say the least.