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Has My Body Caught the Celluloid Vinegar Virus? 

or is my film collection finally killing me.

When I went to check the condition of a CBS kids show called Mr. I'magination 1952 with host Paul Tripp I got hit with the strongest burst of Vinegar that not only smelled horrible but I could feel it attacking my eyes. I closed it fast enough to locate my swim goggles for protection. I could still smell the vinegar through the mask. I'm also wearing gloves.

There are very few episodes of  Mr. I. Magination which was one of the earliest television shows for boomer children. It ran live as a half-hour weekly show on CBS from 1949 to 1952 and was broadcast from Manhattan. I located this  16mm kinescope thirty years ago.

I'm lucky that I transferred this rare live kids show thirty  years ago with the help of Ron Simon at the Paley Center for Media in New York during the analog era. It would be nice to restore it over again. If not we at least have a copy of it.

Vinegar syndrome is a chemical of degradation that occurs with cellulous acetate film and is characterized by an obvious vinegar smell. A process in which acetate film begins to degrade. This applies to media (cinematographic and photographic film, microfilm) made with acetate backing; most film of this type was made prior to 1980. The degradation process releases acetic acid, the same substance in vinegar that gives it its smell which is the identifying characteristic of the degradation process.

This is the last time I'll be handling films from this storage room or in my apartment with out gloves and protective body wear. It's not just the vinegar virus that can affect you, its all the dirt and mold that has taken squatters rights to your films.


Trust me all my stuff isn't killing me so to speak, but its that hand full surrounding me that' needs to be quarantined I've just been lazy over the years not thinking about all those invisible particles floating around the apartment since I began handling the film elements full time. I think Madame Curie and Karen Silkwood had simple problems in their day.

Then you forget your rubbing your eyes or scratching your skin. At one point I thought I had contracted a deadly virus the way my arms and legs were breaking out with rashes and some bleeding. I am healing at the moment. I had dozens of blood test that all came up normal. Both dermatologist agree my skin is allergic to something, but don't know what. But after another crazy film collector showed me he had the same body damage only proves that my environment is causing it. 

Lots of different blood tests

Clue # 1: For years these films and cans just sat in my apartment and nothing happened to me. Why now?

Clue # 2: When I started opening up the cans, and handling the celluloid films in this closed environment. It doesn't help that I'm living in that same space 24/7. 

Clue # 3:The biggest crime was it never dawned on me that you could personally catch something. 

3/4 tapes fill the apartment

As the story goes.....


Over the last 7 months my skin started becoming very sensitive. When I went to dry my legs after a shower long red lines started appearing. It looked like my towel scratched my leg. The elastic on my sock was stopping circulation, and some areas were bleeding. 


A few times when I felt a certain part of my leg itching and looked down there was a pin sized blood drop.

My body became very sensitive with rashes forming mostly on legs and arms.

My face, feet, butt and organ were affected. There were times that my body itched like crazy.

These  markings are nothing compared to the way my body was at its peak of ugliness.  I thought I would wake up one morning and finding I'm slowly decomposing with rashes.

My skin was sensitive to sunlight, after a short time in a sauna  the marks became more pronounced, same reaction being in the sun.

My face, especially the cheeks were a lot redder than this. There were times my noise looked like W.C. Fields after a all night drinker. 

My eye's have felt sensitive, and itchy, at times I use an eye wash.

At the moment I have these type of marks on my legs. If I'm in the sauna, or out in the sun they will get redder. They are slowly healing. I won't know if I'm healing until  I did rid of all these films.

This is a patch test I had to wear  for a few days to test to see what I might allergic to.  It came  back with no results, other than my skin is allergic to something. Don't panic the marks on my back are red from the tape being pulled off. My back never broke out.  But it was sensitive to scratches.

As of September 1st 2018 the rashes have been slowly going away. No bleeding.

I'm just using mild soap, and cream to moisturize the skin. No itching.

redness in face gone.

When I lost my two storage rooms in my apartment building basement I had to move part of my celluloid film & tape collection to a New Jersey storage facility and my apartment.

Part 1 Started January 2016 Films & Tapes in my apartment

For 15 years I've been living with part of my celluloid film and tape collection packed away in all parts of my apartment. At the same time even more films and tapes have neen stored  For the next year and a half I started going through each film  reel, throwing away cans and trying to figure out whats on each reel.



BEFORE : Films & tapes stored in Kitchen


Part 2 Finishing organizing the film in my apartment

For 15 years I've been living with part of my celluloid film collection packed away in all parts of my living space. For the next year and a half I started going through each one, throwing away cans and trying to figure out whats on each reel.

AFTER : Films & tapes stored in Kitchen

BEFORE: Films in Hallway have been packed up over the last year

BEFORE: My Living Room became one of my work areas.

ira living room.jpg

AFTER: Having my living room back.


AFTER:Every corner of the apartment had film cans.


Films in my living room  have been packed up over the last year. Lots of work


AFTER: Threw cans out, and organized by topics and reel sizes of films stored in living room and hallway.

Coming Next: The Dangers of dealing with the Storage Room

Episode # 1 : Witness my nightmare 14 years ago when I had to pack up two rooms in my basement filled with 16mm & 35mm celluloid films and find another place to store everything. I couldn't find anyone interested at the time in saving the thousands of commercials I rescued from a burnt out building when drug dealers torched the townhouse of the creator of the Cleo Awards because he owed them money.  

Episode # 3  This was the first of the three rooms housing my cellioud film collection I had to pack up 14 years ago and move to my New Jersey storage room. A detail list is being worked on.

Episode # 2  The nightmare continues as you can start to see the condition of all the films that came to this storage facility 14 years ago.

Episode # 4 It's a trip down memory lane for any Boomer, scholar or fan of early television  to witness so of my rare one of a kind films and commercials. But it's  going to be a lot of hard work trying to save it all first.

​You can see by my recent posts that I have collected one of the most unique and diverse private celluloid film collections in the the world. If I don't do something to save my one-of-a-kind 35mm, 16mm, 8mm and Super 8 films they will be lost forever. There some of the rarest films, television shows, industrial films, documentaries, Soundies, cartoons, film shorts, silent and sound features, newsreels, sporting events, home movies, and--especially--commercials from the early days of film to the Golden Age of television.

 Under Construction

Vinegar syndrome effects acetate or safety film. This type of film is deemed safe as a comparison to the highly flammable nitrate film. Acetate film, made of plastic, degrades in a roughly predictable manor. The chemical deterioration process of film materials made from cellulose acetates  is known as "vinegar syndrome"

Cellulose acetate film became the standard material used for cinema film when nitrate film was discontinued in the 1950s, although it has been used since the beginning of cinema. It was considered too expensive in the early years of cinema and was used primarily for smaller-gauge films at that time. It was not until the 1980s that "film archivists noticed acetic vapor coming out of triacetate film cans, and the film inside had become limp. This decomposition became known as the “vinegar syndrome,” taking its name from the characteristic odor of the vapor" 

The degradation of the film involves the release of acetic acid. The film is made of a sheet of cellulous acetate that provides a base for the image layer. The deterioration starts in the cellulous layer and diffuses up through the image layer, creating an acetic or vinegar odor. Shrinkage and brittleness are also symptoms of this syndrome This degradation is characterized by a drying and shrinking of the film, embrittling, and the strong vinegar smell that gives it its name 

High humidity combined with high temperature or extreme changes in temperature are causal factors of vinegar syndrome. "Decomposition of triacetate films is caused by hydrolysis of the acetate groups, which results in the formation of acetic acid. This acetic acid in turn increases the rate of hydrolysis, which renders the decomposition autocatalytic"   Poor storage conditions are to blame for the onset of this process, and it is accelerated when chemicals remain as a result of poor developing techniques during film development.

Vinegar syndrome is infectious as it gives off acidic vapors, causing other film in the immediate area to degrade as well  The process must be identified early on because it speeds up with time.

Vented enclosures may help to slow deterioration since non-vented or sealed enclosures trap acids and speed up the decay process. Use breathable enclosures and store in a low temperature and low relative humidity. Film in an advanced state of decay should be duplicated and placed in cold storage, or frozen . Proper storage and handling practices: using gloves, and storing in low light environments, can prevent vinegar syndrome almost entirely. 220 West 71st Street NYC 10023

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