Hidden dangers on your dresser: celluloid.

Published May 17, 2015 by AntiqueMystique1

celluloid rattle and comb.

I snapped a picture of a celluloid comb and a baby rattle in a local antique store today. I can take a guess that the baby rattle is likely from the early 40s since they banned celluloid here in the US around 1944-45 due to it being extremely volatile. The small comb might be a little earlier, perhaps. Why then, do I own celluloid? I keep just a bare minimum of it around. Celluloid is beautiful, no doubt. At least I think it looks pretty and there’s more color choices than just the common ivory ‘cream-colored’ celluloid. There’s also Tortoise shell designs and pearlescent patterns. Once or twice I’ve seen some stunning emerald, pale yellow, and pink pearlescent celluloid dresser sets. For those that might be new to collecting dresser sets they may contain a comb, hair brush, hair pin receiver, hand mirror, dresser tray, perfume bottle holder, button hook, nail buffer, picture frame, a silent butler (used to sweep away dust from a surface and often contains a hand-held brush and dust pan), clothing brush, celluloid hair pins, hat pins, etc.

Whew! I really went a little celluloid slap happy couple years back before I knew of its hidden danger. It’s also flammable as well. Celluloid is made of camphor and nitrate and it was produced before the invention of plastic from about 1885-1915. It was a cheap alternative to ivory and very easy to mold and dye. And it was once touted to be ‘tough’ to a certain degree. Even Edison Amberol 4 minute cylinders have a blue, sometimes lavender-blue hue to them and the outer surface was made of celluloid. The Amberol cylinder’s core was made of plaster thus making handling and reaming these cylinder records quite an exercise in extreme patients.

Plastics were invented sometime in the 30’s. I got that little gem of knowledge handed down to me from my great grandmother, the one who lived in a museum—ah, I mean house. What else did I see today? Oh, yeah, I saw two tiny celluloid dolls no bigger than an inch in height. As cute as they appeared, I passed them by.

I’ve dumped quite a bit of stuff on eBay and some antiques. I’m in the process of downsizing and trying to save up down payment money for a home. It’s a tedious process and very slow going. If anybody’s interested in celluloid and where to find it, I’d suggest your local antique malls or eBay, Esty or Ruby Lane antiques. I’ve never seen celluloid turn up in thrift stores or second-hand stores. And if it does, then it’s usually that high dollar item locked in a glass display case. Thanks for reading! 🙂


2 comments on “Hidden dangers on your dresser: celluloid.

  • Some of the vintage celluloid jewelry can be absolutely gorgeous, especially the hand painted Japanese floral examples. I went a bit nuts several years ago locating the basket brooches to sell in my Etsy shop (hence the blog post about it, which was originally written for my Etsy-linked blog on Tumblr and eventually transferred here). I loved the idea that because of the hand painting, each brooch was unique.

  • Yeah, I’ve only seen the celluloid jewelry and brooches once in a while. I have also seen (and own) one celluloid hat pin that belonged to my great grandmother. I don’t know if it was hers or if she bought it. She was constantly buying antiques. I will definitely have to take a look at your blog. 🙂

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