Film Strip Showing Nitrate Damage

Yorkshire Film Archive

Yorkshire Film Archive
York, United Kingdom

This film shows damage from the deterioration of the nitrate film stock. Cellulose nitrate was the first man-made polymer and was originally developed in 1850 as a substitute for natural horn. Later known as celluloid, it became the original motion picture film base from 1895 until approximately 1950. Nitrate film is highly flammable, and chemically very similar to gunpowder. Once ignited, a nitrate fire cannot be extinguished because the fire generates its own oxygen. Nitrate film can even burn under water.

Nitrate film is prone to chemical decay over time, and this process is exacerbated by poor storage conditions. The film begins to discolour turning amber, and later the emulsion can become adhesive. This causes the film to stick together, pulling the images directly from the base resulting in the complete loss of those images. Eventually the film becomes a solid soft mass giving off a strong noxious smell before finally turning into a brown powder.


  • Title: Film Strip Showing Nitrate Damage
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