How Is Vintage Celluloid Made

Celluloid Poker Dice

How Was John W. Hyatt’s Vintage Celluloid Made? In one of John W. Hyatts Patents he describes best how Celluloid was produced. Cotton fiber was transformed into pyroxyline by immersing it in a mixture of nitric acid and sulphuric acid. This mixture is then cleaned repeatedly with alcohol and water. The pyroxyline was prepared by grinding it in water until it was reduced to a fine nitrated cellulose pulp free of all acid. At this point any suitable coloring pigment or dye was mixed thoroughly with the pyroxyline pulp. While the ground pulp was still wet finely pulverized gum-camphor was added. The proportions were one part by weight of camphor to two parts of pyroxyline when in a dry state.

After the powdered camphor is thoroughly mixed with the wet pyroxyline pulp the water was removed as far as possible by straining the mixture and subjecting it to immense pressure in a perforated vessel. This process leaves the mixture in a comparatively solid and dry state, but containing sufficient moisture to prevent the pyroxyline from burning or exploding during the remaining process.

The mixture was then placed in a mold of any appropriate form which was heated by heavy pressure and steam from 150 degrees to 300 degrees depending on the size of the mass. The heat and pressure vaporizes or liquefies the camphor and turns it into a solvent. The camphor solvent is then forced into intimate contact with every particle of the pyroxyline and a chemical change begins to take place.

Celluloid Items
Vintage Celluloid billiard balls, jewelry, cigarette case, greeting cards, toys, and Ping Pong balls

After keeping the mixture under heat and pressure to complete the solvent action throughout the mass it is cooled while still under pressure and then taken out of the mold. The celluloid is now a solid about the consistency of sole leather but which subsequently becomes as hard as horn or bone by evaporation of the camphor. Before the camphor was evaporated the celluloid was easily softened by heat and could be molded into desirable form.

What is Camphor?

Camphor is a waxy, flammable white solid with a strong aromatic odor. It is found in the wood of the camphor laurel tree found in Asia. Camphor was used as a plasticizer for nitrocellulose or cotton fibers in the making of vintage celluloid. Plus is is an ingredient for fireworks and explosive munitions. Caution should be exercised when attempting to clean Vintage Celluloid.

Japanese Refined Camphor
Japanese Refined Camphor Made By The Nippon Camphor Co. Kobe, Japan