Every image we work with is compelling in its own way but recently we received a box of 30 nitrate negatives for preservation that had appreciable historical significance. So badly curled, brittle, and stuck together were the almost 120-year-old negatives that our client had never before seen many of the images in his possession – which included those of US forces in Havana Harbor, Cuba and the doomed USS Maine.
The USS Maine was a second-class battleship dispatched by President McKinley to Spanish-colonized Cuba in early 1898. The ship was sent by McKinley in an effort to calm the current situation of the country, long in revolt, as well as pacify Americans outraged by the treatment of Cubans at the hands of Spain. In its third week of being anchored in Havana Harbor, the USS Maine was sunk by an undetermined explosion —killing 266 members of its crew— and served as a catalyst for the Spanish-American War. The war, which lasted a mere four months, is considered the pivot point for the United States’ emergence as a world power at the turn of the century.
Despite the poor state in which the nitrate negatives came to us, relative to their age they were in surprisingly good condition. Nitrate film became available for purchase by the public just a decade earlier in 1889 and is known for its inherent instability along with health and safety issues when not stored or handled properly. For in-depth information please see our article Negative Deterioration: Digitization and Preservation of Cellulose Nitrate and Cellulose Acetate Negatives.
Once we walked our client through shipping the materials to us all of the negatives needed to be separated, flattened, assessed, and stabilized. Each negative then underwent a high-resolution capture in accordance with FADGI guidelines, creating archival and production master image files, and all broken negatives were digitally pieced together to restore image integrity. After digitization, the original nitrate negatives were then stabilized in archival enclosures. In this case, our client chose to keep the original negatives but many clients opt to have us dispose of them safely once the images have been captured and preserved. Another option in dealing with nitrate or any negatives is to output the image files back to a traditional silver halide film while also maintaining a digital file.
We are pleased to have played a part in preserving such compelling historical images which allow both us and future generations to consider the past. If we can help you meet your preservation needs through our extensive experience in handling film collections in various states of deterioration please contact us.