View Full Version : Old negatives—Advice please

Richard Wasserman
19-Feb-2011, 12:02
I purchased a number of black and white 4x5 negatives from the 1940s and 50s. They are all on Kodak Safety Film—is this the dreaded acetate film? They are all in good condition and show no signs of deterioration. Anything special I should do to preserve them? I'm thinking of washing them and storing them the way I keep my own negatives, in Mylar folders in acid free envelopes. Might they be emitting nasty fumes and should I keep them away from my own film?

Nicholas Whitman
19-Feb-2011, 12:17
They are not the dreaded exploding acetate film. They are safe and that's why they are called safety film!

Oren Grad
19-Feb-2011, 12:49
The "exploding" film base was nitrate, not acetate. But acetate has its own issues.


Merg Ross
19-Feb-2011, 14:29
Richard, your task will be to determine the base material. This link will get you started:


The good news is that you do not observe (or smell) any deterioration. My experience, noted on another thread, was with "newer" film than you have. Believe me, you will know when the film goes bad; the acid smell is terrible, and the film becomes deformed as the emulsion separates from the base. I would be inclined to not wash them, however, your research may suggest otherwise.

I enjoyed your Chicago River series, well done.

Richard Wasserman
19-Feb-2011, 15:52

I'm glad you like the Chicago River Photos, they've been a labor of love for me for several years.

The web page you referenced is very useful, especially the recommendations on storage, thank you. I have been scanning the film today and it all appears to be in good shape with no signs of any problems, so I think I won't push my luck at the moment and will simply file them in acid free envelopes and not worry. I will store them separately from my other film just to play it safe.

These were all done by newspaper photographers and it's interesting how bad many of the exposures are, usually underexposed a couple stops, and how hard it was for them to hold the camera level. Probably didn't matter because the reproductions in the papers were not very good, and they were heavily cropped much of the time.