Cellulose Nitrate Negatives

Throughout our travels we have come across a few archives that were unaware they had cellulose nitrate in their collection or that film based photographic material can be made of cellulose nitrate. Cellulose nitrate is flammable and releases hazardous nitrogen oxide gases as it deteriorates. It is extremely important to identify any cellulose nitrate in your holdings as this material is unstable and requires special storage and environmental considerations.

Identification

There are many ways to identify nitrate; however, few of the methods are absolute. It is beneficial to utilize a combination of methods to identify if a negative is nitrate:

  1. Edge printing: Many, but not all, manufacturers identified the type of film along one border of the film with nitrate or safety. Safety indicates the negative is acetate. It is important to note that some early nitrate does not have edge printing.
  2. Notch codes: A notch code is a group of indentations or recesses on the edge of a piece of film to help identify the film type and brand. If there is a ‘V’ notch code first from the edge of the negative, it is nitrate, and if there is a ‘U’ notch code first from the edge of the negatives, it is acetate. Notch codes are not always accurate as the photographer may have cut the film sheet for various reasons and removed the notch code closest to the edge.
    An example of edge printing and notch codes for a nitrate negative. Photo credit: Amanda Oliver

    An example of edge printing and notch codes for a nitrate negative. Photo credit: Amanda Oliver

    An example of edge printing and notch codes for an acetate negative. Photo credit: Amanda Oliver

    An example of edge printing and notch codes for an acetate negative. Photo credit: Amanda Oliver

  3. Dates of negatives: Kodak started selling cellulose nitrate negatives in 1889 and the last year of nitrate manufacture was 1950. These dates are only applicable for Kodak and there are no other dates for other manufacturers. Also, photographers may have purchased film and used it much later than the purchase date. The dates of the negatives are not always the most reliable method for identifying negatives.
  4. Level of deterioration: There are six levels of deterioration for nitrate negatives. The negatives start to yellow and mirror, then become sticky, then the image begins to fade before turning into a brownish powder. Please visit the NEDCC for images of all the different levels of deterioration: https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/5.-photographs/5.1-a-short-guide-to-film-base-photographic-materials-identification,-care,-and-duplication

    Example of nitrate deterioration level 2. Image is yellowing and beginning to mirror.  Photo credit: Amanda Oliver

    Example of nitrate deterioration level 2. Image is yellowing and beginning to mirror. Photo credit: Amanda Oliver

  5. Testing: There are a variety of tests available to identify nitrate; however, many of these tests are damaging to the negative. The diphenylamine, burn and float test can damage the record and should all be conducted by a professional. A non-destructive test is viewing the negative through a polarizer. Polyester negatives show red and green interference colours through a polarizer whereas nitrate and acetate do not. Please visit the NPS for more information about creating a polarizer: http://www.nps.gov/museum/coldstorage/pdf/2.3.1b.pdf

Handling

If available, use duplicate access copies of the negatives. Allow material stored at cool temperatures to acclimatize before handling. Wear cotton or nitrile gloves when handling nitrate negatives. This prevents oil from transferring to the negatives and acts as a heat buffer. Negatives at a higher level of deterioration ignite at lower temperatures and body heat may trigger a reaction. Try to handle negatives by their edges and avoid touching the emulsion layer. Do not expose the negatives to any heat sources. If projecting or digitizing negatives, consider using a lower watt lightbulb in the projector or scanner.

Storage and Environment

It is important to isolate nitrate from other material is the collection. These negatives off-gas nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, which is harmful to humans and other items in the collection. For example, gases can cause skin and eye irritations as well as respiratory issues and cause paper to become discoloured and brittle and metal to corrode. Keep the storage space well ventilated.

Nitrate negatives should be housed in PAT approved negatives sleeves or envelopes and placed in an acid-free box. If freezing the negatives, the box should be sealed in a polypropylene bag. Freezing the negatives in a sealed bag counteracts the advice to keep the storage well ventilated; however, freezing is more beneficial to negatives in good condition than well ventilated storage.

Temperature and relative humidity levels are significant factors in slowing the deterioration of nitrate negatives. Cool to cold temperatures and 30-50% RH are recommended. If possible, store negatives in a cool – cold storage vault or freezer. Freezers must be frost-free and have the ability to monitor temperature and RH. Some freezer brands are also explosive-proof, which may be beneficial for these flammable records.

Digitization

Consider digitizing the nitrate negatives prior to freezing them. Digitization prior to the start of or further deterioration ensures that an accurate representation of the record is being kept. It decreases use of the original, which prevents damage caused by handling. It also ensures the original is kept in a stable environment to prevent further degradation.

Disaster Preparedness

Due to the flammable nature of this material, it is important to include cellulose nitrate in your disaster plan. Train your staff on potential scenarios involving cellulose nitrate and advise your staff on its location within your collection. Set up a monitoring schedule to check for any signs of deterioration. Ensure that there are no heat sources, such as light bulbs or radiators, near this material. It is recommended to advise your local fire department where this material is located within your facility. This is extremely important as ignited cellulose nitrate creates its own oxygen and cannot be put out using water.

Disasters may also speed up the deterioration of nitrate negatives. While we have been helping archives across Alberta recover from the June 2013 floods, we have seen nitrate negatives’ deterioration accelerated due to their time in water. It is important to identify vulnerable media in your collection and plan for evacuations, if possible.

Disposal

If you decide to dispose of the cellulose nitrate in your collection, be advised that it is considered a hazardous material. Check with Alberta Environmental Protection (http://environment.gov.ab.ca/info/library/7423.pdf) or with your local environmental agency for more information on safe disposal methods for nitrate film.

Sources

The Association of Moving Image Archivists. “Identifying and Handling Nitrate Film.” The Association of Moving Image Archivists December 2008. Accessed on April 2, 2015. http://www.amianet.org/groups/committees/nitrate/documents/NitrateIGNov08.pdf

Fischer, Monique. “5.1 A Short Guide to Film Base Photographic Materials: Identification, Care and Duplication.” Northeast Document Conservation Centre. Accessed on April 2, 2015. https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/5.-photographs/5.1-a-short-guide-to-film-base-photographic-materials-identification,-care,-and-duplication

Kodak. “Storage and Handling of Processed Nitrate Film.” Kodak. Accessed on April 2, 2015. http://motion.kodak.com/motion/Support/Technical_Information/Storage/storage_nitrate.htm

Messier, Paul. “Preserving Your Collection of Film-Based Photographic Negatives.” Rocky Mountain Conservation Centre. Access on April 2, 2015. http://cool.conservation-us.org/byauth/messier/negrmcc.html

National Park Service. “Cold Storage: A Long-Term Preservation Strategy for Film-Based Photographic Materials.” National Park Service. Accessed on April 2, 2015. http://www.nps.gov/museum/coldstorage/NPSColdStorage.swf

Reilly, James M. “IPI Storage Guide for Acetate Film.” Image Permanence Institute. Last modified 1996. Accessed on April 2, 2015. https://www.imagepermanenceinstitute.org/webfm_send/299

Williams, R. Scott. “Display and Storage of Museum Objects Containing Cellulose Nitrate – CCI Notes 15/3.” Canadian Conservation Institute. Accessed April 2, 2015. http://www.cci-icc.gc.ca/resources-ressources/ccinotesicc/15-3-eng.aspx

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Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

The science behind it

  • (C10H8O4)n
  • Melting point is around 250°C
  • Can be transparent or opaque white
  • It can be semi-rigid or rigid depending on how it was processed
  • It is a successful water and moisture barrier
  • A well-known commercial brand, produced in 1952 by Dupont™, is Mylar®

The story behind it

  • PET is a safe and stable plastic used often in conservation in the form of either foam or sheeting, to house or protect artifacts
  • It is also used during conservation treatment, e.g. for some humidification treatments, and as a barrier on the suction table
  • It is commonly used to make water bottles, and is a popular material in the art and drafting industry

We recommend PET as an important material for an emergency response or disaster kit. It can be draped over shelving units, tables, or boxes to protect records from water or moisture damage caused by sprinklers, or fire extinguishers.

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What is a disaster kit?

What is a disaster kit and why is it important? The purpose of a disaster kit (or emergency kit) is to have supplies and safety equipment on hand to contain a disaster at your institution. Disaster kits are important because they allow staff to respond to emergencies quickly and safely without relying on facility management staff or a trip to the hardware store for supplies. A quick response may inhibit the emergency from escalating or contain the disaster until more help or supplies arrive.

What should you include in your kit? Supplies that would help you to respond immediately to an emergency, such as absorbent socks or polyethylene sheeting for leaks, supplies that would help you address damaged records, such as blotting paper or acid-free paper for interleaving, and personal protective safety equipment, such as gloves and hardhats. A copy of your disaster plan should also be available in your kit for quick reference. ASA has a list of suggested supplies to include in you kit on our website: http://archivesalberta.org/doc/Disaster_Response_KitNEW.pdf

How should you store your kit? It is beneficial to store all of your disaster supplies in one location for ease of use. You should ensure the container for your kit is portable and not too heavy (consider a container with wheels). Place frequently used materials near the top of your kit for easy access. It is also important to store the kit in an easily accessible area or near problematic areas in your facility, such as a leaky heater, to speed up response times.

How do you secure your kit? A container full of supplies is a treasure trove for archivists and conservators alike. Although it may be tempting to use these supplies and equipment, you may use up supplies needed if an emergency occurs. It is beneficial to seal the emergency kit and include a list of supplies within the kit on the outside of the container. If the seal is broken, a designated staff member is responsible for replenishing any missing stock. This method secures the kit and guarantees supplies are available in case of an emergency.

A disaster kit can be an expensive investment; however, it ensures there are basic supplies and safety equipment available to address emergencies that may impact your institution and collection.

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Legal Archives Society of Alberta has a new website!

We are pleased to announce that the Legal Archives Society of Alberta has a new and improved website www.legalarchives.ca.

There are several new features that allow for easier navigation and a more interactive experience:

  • Virtual Galleries and Multimedia: includes images from LASA’s large photograph archives, as well as a list of all LASA’s oral histories, including recorded samples;
  • Donate online: now you can make your generous gift to help LASA preserve and promote Alberta’s legal heritage with a quick and secure donation;
  • Publications: we have a list of all our publications, including a free download of Leonard Brockington: A Life by Edward M. Bredin, Q.C.  You can also browse back issues of LASA’s bi-annual newsletter, Architypes, which includes many interesting articles on Alberta’s legal history.

There is much more to be found on LASA’s new website, including many of the services our experienced staff offer to help you explore Alberta’s legal history.

Please visit www.legalarchives.ca for more information on the Legal Archives Society of Alberta, and for upcoming events.

The Disaster Management Session at the Canadian Association for Conservation Conference

The 41st Annual Canadian Association for Conservation Conference was held in Edmonton, Alberta from May 28-30, 2015. The Lead Conservator attended the entire conference and the Lead Archivist attended the final day of the conference.

Amanda Oliver, Lead Archivist, presenting at the CAC conference. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham

Amanda Oliver, Lead Archivist, presenting at the CAC conference. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham

On May 30, the conference hosted a session entitled ‘Disaster Management’. The session began with a paper by Sue Warren called, ‘Canada Science and Technology Museum – Crisis Management’. She discussed the difficulties she experienced with her institution’s facility, where high levels of airborne mould were found as a result of multiple leaks in their roof. Warren shared her experience dealing with an abrupt closure and mass conservation treatments of artefacts from the museum.

Next, Sarah Little, Rebecca Delorme and Sarah Storck presented a paper entitled, ‘Staying Afloat: The Challengers of Recovering from a Major Flood at a Small Museum”. The speakers shared their experience recovering museum artefacts from the June 2013 in southern Alberta. They went into great detail discussing the time and organizational skills required to complete recovery work.

Emily Turgeon-Brunet, Lead Conservator, presenting at the CAC conference. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham

Emily Turgeon-Brunet, Lead Conservator, presenting at the CAC conference. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham

In addition to this presentation about Museum of the Highwood, Gail Niinimaa and Irene Karsten presented a paper called, ‘Salvage and Recovery at Museum of the Highwood Artifacts after Major Flooding’. The presenters discussed their experience salvaging material immediately after the flooding, with a particular focus on the museum’s textile collection. It was wonderful to hear these presentations about an ASA institutional member, especially considering ASA has been working exclusively on the Museum of the Highwood’s archival material. It was interesting to learn more about their recovery work with the museum’s artefacts.

The Lead Team presented the final paper of the session entitled, ‘Worst Case Scenario: Preparing Alberta’s Archives for Future Disasters’. This presentation summarized the ASA’s Flood Advisory Programme – our work so far and our plans for the future. We used specific examples for our members that were negatively affected by the flood and how our program has assisted in their recovery work.

The Lead Team learnt a great deal throughout the conference and especially during the Disaster Management Session. We would like to thank the Canadian Association for Conservation for inviting us to present at the conference. It was a wonderful experience!

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The Lead Team Presents…

From May 13th to 15th the Lead Conservator presented a poster in Miami, Florida at the 43rd annual AIC (American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) conference, on behalf of the Lead Team. The poster was exhibited for three days of the conference. On the final exhibition day the Lead Conservator was available to answer questions and accept feedback from viewers.
The conference was a wonderful experience where the Lead Conservator was able to meet representatives from many companies who sell archival housing materials, technical literature, conservation supplies, exhibition cases and mounts, instruments of analysis, and environmental monitoring systems. She also attended 20 sessions, two networking receptions, one networking luncheon, and a tour of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

The Lead Team’s poster at the AIC conference  Photo Credit: Emily Turgeon-Brunet

The Lead Team’s poster at the AIC conference
Photo Credit: Emily Turgeon-Brunet

Decorative breakwater at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens  Photo Credit: Emily Turgeon-Brunet

Decorative breakwater at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Photo Credit: Emily Turgeon-Brunet

artdeco

Art Deco building in South Beach, near the Miami Design Preservation League Photo Credit: Emily Turgeon-Brunet

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Happy International Archives Day!

June 9 is International Archives Day! International Archives Day was established in November 2007 by the International Council on Archives. The date was chosen because the International Council on Archives (ICA) was founded on June 9, 1948 under the patronage of the UNESCO. It is a day to celebrate our archival institutions around the world. ICA states that, “through the International Archives Day, we can:

  • Raise awareness among the public of the importance of records and archives, in order to make it understood that records and archives provide the foundation for their rights and identity;
  • Raise the awareness of senior decision makers of the benefits of records management for good governance and development;
  • Raise the public, private and public sectors’ awareness of the necessity of preserving archives for the long-term, and of providing access to them;
  • Promote and bring to the attention of the larger public unique, extraordinary and rare documents preserved in archival institutions;
  • Improve the image of records and archives and enhance their visibility globally.”[1]

These are great reasons to partake in International Archives Day! Although ASA is not an archives, we support the work of archives and archivists across Alberta and represent Alberta’s archival community. We would like to take this opportunity to recognize all of the work our institutional and individual members do every day to acquire, preserve and make assessable Alberta’s documentary heritage. We hope you have a wonderful International Archives Day!

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[1] International Council on Archives, “International Archives Day,” http://www.ica.org/1561/international-archives-day/celebrate-the-international-archives-day.html

Salvage at a Glance

Since September 2014, the Flood Advisory Programme’s Lead Team has been working with our institutional members on salvage and recovery from the June 2013 floods. We had the opportunity to treat records from the Museum of the Highwood, which was devastated by the flood. The Lead Team transported the frozen photographic material to the Provincial Archives of Alberta’s conservation lab to treat the records and to begin reconciling the records with their descriptions. Here are a few photographs of this process:

Emily Turgeon-Brunet handling muddy matted photographs. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Emily Turgeon-Brunet handling muddy matted photographs. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Glass plate negatives on a drying rack after multiple baths in a mixture of ethanol and water. Photo Credit: Amanda Oliver.

Glass plate negatives on a drying rack after multiple baths in a mixture of ethanol and water. Photo Credit: Amanda Oliver.

Broken glass plate negative on a light table. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Broken glass plate negative on a light table. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Before treatment: six mud-covered ambrotypes in wooden box. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Before treatment: six mud-covered ambrotypes in wooden box. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

After treatment: six ambrotypes properly rehoused. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

After treatment: six ambrotypes properly rehoused. Photo Credit: Yesan Ham.

Drying photographs after they have been treated. Photo Credit: Amanda Oliver.

Drying photographs after they have been treated. Photo Credit: Amanda Oliver.

We are continuing to work with Museum of the Highwood to salvage their archival records and make their collection accessible again. We would like to thank the Museum of the Highwood for allowing us to share these photographs, Yesan Ham for taking the photographs and the Provincial Archives of Alberta for providing us with the lab space to treat the records.

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Absorbent Socks

Absorbent socks, or absorbent snakes, are a great resource to have on hand in case of a small scale water emergency in your facility. The socks can be used to block incoming water, which may give you time turn off the water source (if possible) or move nearby records. The socks absorb water, subsequently creating a barrier between the water source and your holdings. They can be wrung out, dried and reused.

The socks come in a variety of lengths and grades. Be sure to purchase the universal grade as the universal grade absorbs water. Other grades are available for oil or chemical spills and these grades will not be as effective for water. This product is available at most industrial safety equipment retailers. We recommend having an absorbent sock in your emergency response kit for small scale water emergencies, such as burst pipes or water heater leaks.

**ASA does not endorse the use of any particular brand of absorbent sock.
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MayDay!

May 1 is Mayday – a day to reflect on, plan and/or practice disaster response and recovery plans and techniques. The purpose of MayDay is to focus on disaster preparedness for one day every year. Any form of preparedness helps if a disaster occurs. MayDay is an opportunity to update a disaster plan, practice emergency procedures, provide training (fire drills, evacuations, fire extinguisher use, etc.), update contact lists, and review storage facilities. These are just a few examples of activities for MayDay. Get creative and find an activity that is right for your facility, staff and collection.

       May Day Resources:

Suggested MayDay Activities

MayDay Quick Tips

MayDay falls within Preservation Week

MayDay Resources

Tips from MayDay2014

       Disaster Related Webinars on May 1, 2015

Disaster Response Q&A (free)

After Disasters: Salvage and Recovery in Small to Mid-Sized Museums and Libraries (free)

The Supercharged Management System: Applying the Incident Command System in Cultural Repositories (free, pre-recorded)

Preparation makes a difference. Do one thing on May 1, 2015 to prepare your institution for a disaster. Join the MayDay movement to protect our archives and our heritage!

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