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I have around 100 large format colour black and white negatives circa late 1950s. I couldn't tell, but they looked like they were in some plastic sleeves that had deteriorated or some plastic coating (that seemed to have a blue tint). The chemicals in the film or the coating could have reacted with each other. Has anyone come across this before? Is there some way the negatives can be salvaged? Some solution or something to remove the outer plastic?

I've attached some photos. Any suggestions?

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Comment by Bobbie Carnegie on December 5, 2022 at 17:31

Would a 'before and after scan' be an archival idea for profile recovery of each print? Just a thought.

Comment by Nicholas John Burnett on November 29, 2022 at 22:10

By the way there is no fire risk from these negatives.  They are cellulose acetate rather than the highly combustible cellulose nitrate.

Comment by Wolfbait Books on November 29, 2022 at 21:01

A big thank you to everybody who replied backmost helpful. Thank you. 

Comment by Nicholas John Burnett on November 28, 2022 at 20:36

This is a common problem.  The blue colour is caused by the anti-halation dye reforming due to the increasing acidity.  The channeling is caused by the shrinking film base due to the loss of acetate groups from the cellulose acetate molecules.

If you want to recover the images I can lift the emulsion from the base and return the emulsion in a polyester pocket ready for scanning if you wish.  If you contact me off-list at I can give you an estimate of the cost.

If you are freezing negatives for long term preservation they need to be packed in a special way to avoid damage from moisture.  I can advise on this and show you how to pack them.

Comment by David H Davison on November 28, 2022 at 12:23

No doubt there is a strong smell of vinegar from these negatives, in practical terms there is little you can do. Retouching would take forever and stripping the emulsion from the shrunken acetate base requires proper handling facilities, fume cupboard etc, as acetone is the solvent used. The important thing is to recognise that the same fate awaits all your other acetate based (safety base) negatives and transparencies and take action now. The Ilford acetate base of this period and later seems to have been particularly prone to shrinkage and is an early warning sign.

I would suggest deep freezing for maximum permanence, although this has attendant problems if you want to print on a regular basis.

The optimum solution is to scan all your undamaged negatives and  although this cannot be regarded as archival  it is possible to output PE based negatives from the scans. I have been following this latter procedure for many years, with correct processing, negatives output in this way have an indefinite life expectancy given appropriate storage conditions.

Comment by Sheila Masson on November 28, 2022 at 10:07

This looks like it is shrinkage/deterioration of acetate film - more explanation here:
(scroll down to "3. Acetate film base deterioration" and see level 6).

From working on a similar collection at Corbis in the 1990s, I seem to remember that there may be a way to "float" the emulsion off the base and then create a new support, but I haven't performed this myself. Something for you to research, although it won't be an easy process. 

Comment by Michael Laurence Deane on November 28, 2022 at 8:52
The only way to save what is left of these images is to scan them as soon as possible.
The decomposition can be dramitically slowed down by placing the negatives in a deep freeze.

It is possible that some of the negatives maybe cellulose and any outside of a deep freeze will be a fire risk and can self ignite and create their own oxygen and continue burning even if placed under water.
Comment by Noorie on November 28, 2022 at 8:29
I have no idea on negative restoration; and threw out thousands from my 30-year photographic career following damp cellar storage. However; amazing things can be done with retouching Prints; so if you’ve managed to achieve that positive from it; the clever folks with photoshop skills can likely remove that snakeskin! Good luck!

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