Over the past twenty-five years, the Chicago Albumen Works has developed and refined the techniques for recovering the image layer from deteriorated acetate films.

As a replacement for flammable nitrocellulose films, cellulose acetate films did prevent the disastrous fires caused by spontaneous combustion, but the acetate films themselves were not without their own inherent vice: as they aged, the film base shrank until the image layer could no longer conform. Eventually, the image layer de-laminated in furrows or channels, rendering the negative unusable for printing and the image unavailable for archiving.

The procedure used by CAW incorporates the following steps:

Photograph the deteriorated film to provide an identification record
Release the emulsion layer from the deteriorated acetate base by dissolving away nitrocellulose
subbing layers
Clean the released emulsion layer of residual nitrocellulose
Eliminate the releasing solvents and relax the deformed image pellicle
Digitize at high resolution
Dry and prepare the image pellicle for storage. It should be noted that once recovered, the image
bearing gelatin pellicle no longer requires sub-freezing temperatures for long term archival storage.
Deteriorated Negative and Recovered Image Pellicle Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

We do not recommend attempting to secure the pellicle to a new support; the procedure adds risk and expense, and produces a new object of untested archival stability. If a client desires a traditional film negative for either printing access or archival preservation, CAW can produce it to extreme accuracy by outputting the digital file to high resolution, large format film. (See LVT film outputs).

While most films delivered to us for recovery are 4x5," 5x7," and 8x10" sheet films, we have also treated up to 14x17" x-ray films.