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Can I Rejuvenate 60 Year Old Fragile Celluloid Aging Film ? Answered

I would like to use one of the services that puts old film on to a HDD  But
My father's 16 mm films ( some early color in Africa ) have been stored in iron hinged boxes
for over 65 years, the last 40 years in Dry Dry Nevada.

I ran a reel 30 years ago it broke in five places then.
Could I Reverse 60 year old brittle celluloid 16 mm film in a humidor ??
If someone has some experience, how much humidity, some Dos & Don'ts  would be greatly appreciated . 
I could build a  humidity controlled closet and displace oxygen if need be.
Speed is not essential a year or two is acceptably doable.
Thanks much in advance.



Best Answer 6 years ago

They used to make special film for duplicating film reals. Most commercial film was shot as a negative from which a positive was made. The one for black and white was called "fine grain positive release film" . This is how they made prints of films that were circulated to all the movie theaters. I would imagine that such film for color still is around as well as the machines to duplicate it. They were designed to be delicate so as to avoid any damage to the original.
So what I am suggesting is that you first have the film duplicated and then if you want to convert it, it would have the strength to handle it.
I don't know that dryness is a factor as much as just age of the film stock. It has probably become brittle just from time.
I wish I could tell you more than that but I have not followed the progress of the process. I do know that they still come across some of the old original films that have been in private collections and that they have been able to restore them.

The concept of replicating the fragile nitrocellulose to a non-brittle interm
film product before conversion to other media is intuitively correct and
excitingly novel solution of my question.
Thank you for responding so fast with an excellent suggestion..

In reading about cellulose I might be concerned that the films I posses are
now considered toxic material, but then bovine flatulations are also
considered toxic by the same frightened regulators......
Every body needs some work to do...

OK, first things first. 16mm film is never found on nitrocellulose (aka nitrate) base, which is highly flammable. All 16mm is "safety film" made from cellulose acetate. It may be possible to add moisture to the film by immersing it in a film can filled with Vitafilm, a product that has been around for many years and is well regarded as a preservative for old film. If you are having the film transferred to video, your lab may be able to treat the film in some way at an extra cost. I have heard of a professional process that re-moisturizes old film just long enough to print or transfer it, with some volatile liquid that evaporates while the film is on the take-up reel. Best of luck.

Thanks for the valuable info.

I have already had one reel transferred to CD by a good Illinois company .

Regrettably I have more film from the 1930s then money.



6 years ago

There is a company in Illinois that does excellent work converting old 16mm
Film to new media, I will commend them if anybody asks. . . . . . A


6 years ago

Shipped first reel to Illinois firm to see how it restores to make a media xfer.
Going through my 34 reel collection found a 1936 film. And one of mt Vesuvius
fuming, throwing lava and almost breathing ?
Every few seconds retracting some gas !
Pre WWII Europe was amazing to see.

of all options available the most one i recommend is using a new machine to scan each image individually the process may take a while but in the long run it will pay off rather than rushing into something as the famous story of the tortoise and the hair best of luck

Thank you, I plan to pay a service to scan many fragile films and deliver the scans
to me as a video on a hard drive.
The hair, very fast, distract able, over confident and looses a simple race.
The tortoise, very slow, focused and wins the race.


good for you good luck on getting it restored i look forward to hearing how it turns out

It likely broke because it can't make it through the latham loop in a projector, and so it will need to be scanned by hand. Adding humidity could lead to "vinegar syndrome" since because of its age, it's triacetate and not mylar.

The other option would be to wind it by hand onto a take up spool, and put 16mm splices with sprockets onto the weaker areas so it won't break.

Thanks for the chem warning.
I'm starting with a California processor of fragile films
trying their capabilities on one of my many reels for a test.
BTW I spent my teen years in Cicero went to college at Navy Pier
before Congress Circle, graduated from IIT and sailed as crew
on a 35' wide beam ketch.


Sounds like a good approach (and "hi!" from the windy city!).

The playing of the film involving jutting it forward with a projector's intermittent cog is what rips the film -- you should be able to purchase or make a digitizer machine that scans one frame at a time slowly and gently to reassemble your movie in a safer format.

Yes mech-stress hurts those little chad holes in the nitrocellulose.
I see they use a prism to avoid tearing film today.
Appreciate the compliment, I am not that.... capable
but I know someone who designed for the industry,
and he lives near here.
Thanks again.

Hokay, well in that case, I'd stick with a professional solution - you'll have a hard time revitalizing the film itself :(

There are techniques to treat the film, but they are usually only applied by film archives AIUI.

My family donated a reel of 35 film from the early 20s to an archive in the UK which was stored outside in a lean to for 60 years, then kept in a cupboard for another 15. The films was perfect- the archivists couldn't believe it.

I suspect humidity may be critical, but you really need professional advice, unless an archivist appears in here !

Your family and your film obviously through association with you has the
strength and the unrelenting persistence of the English Oak.

Just confirmed ( web research for you young lurkers out there ) our suspicion
of moisture for old film storage.
There is a recommended 35% humidity for nitrocellulose storage.

The material isn't going to get any better, making a copy is as much as could be done.
Someone will probably be able to do this as a service, but check that they have experience with "fragile".


"isn't going to get any better" regrettably is unconditionally true for my "fragile" situation. Thank you for advising. Should I survive the upcoming Burning Man,
I will be following through.