small gauge film storage

December 20th, 2011

We have a number of home movie collections at the HFA and we are always adding more.  Every year we host Home Movie Day, helping the public watch home movies on formats they may not be able to watch at home.

A problem we have come across time and again in these collections is film stored on grey plastic reels that have white stuff on them.  The white stuff can be light or heavy.  It occurs on grey plastic reels, some of which are labeled TENITE.  Tenite is  a wood-based plastic made by Eastman, first developed in 1929.

The white stuff isn’t mold; it’s the result of the plastic decomposing.

Above: decomposing Super 8 and 16mm film reels by Kodak

The decomposing reels smell “like vomit,” a technical description in the wonderful world of plastics.  Weissman Preservation Center staff member Zach Long tested the super 8 reels (which were not marked Tenite), and determined the reels are most likely made of cellulose acetate butyrate.

Above: actively decaying super 8 reels

 

Above: In early stages of decomposition, the reels have only a small amount of white on them and do not smell.

If you find you have film on grey plastic reels or reels labeled TENITE, we recommend putting them on different reels and throwing the old reels away.

* We recommend wearing plastic gloves when handling these reels! *

Even if the reels are not yet decaying, they are good candidates for this problem.  It is safer to store your films on a different type of reel.  For 8mm or Super 8 we use polystyrene reels, which are not ideal but are better than metal or cellulose acetate butyrate.  Your film will thank you!

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