identifier: 20140906 CELLULOID NOTEBOOK
Victorian mourning notebook with a celluloid cover panel. Size: 50 x 80mm.
This miniature notebook has a front panel of embossed celluloid, a material used from the 1870s to provide a material for mass production by moulding, in this case for an item that represented carved ivory. Evidently a mourning item, it contains a name on the inside cover, names of two people on the first page and then … it’s blank. From the dates given, this item is from the late 1870s or 1880s.
For the story of the introduction of celluloid – best known as the physical medium on which motion pictures were, until recent years, made and shown – I would encourage you to read the informative article: ‘Exploding Teeth, Unbreakable Sheets and Continuous Casting: Nitrocellulose from Gun-cotton to Early Cinema’ by Deac Rossell, which is available for free download here.
‘The company that finally found commercial success with the new material was founded in 1870 by John Wesley Hyatt and his brother Isaiah Smith Hyatt in Albany, New York. They called their formable plastic “celluloid”, and incorporated as the Albany Dental Plate Company. Hyatt used a mixture of pyroxyline and camphor in his celluloid, which he saw as a substitute for the hard rubber used by dentists in the false teeth, bridges, and other dental wares of the day. The company struggled until Hyatt, trained as a printer, began to form his teeth (and billiard balls, combs, and other trinkets) under heat and pressure, which created a material that was stable and hard in nearly any shape. Hyatt’s early products used no fillers, and only the “least quantity” of colouring pigments; therefore they were nearly pure gun-cotton, and his billiard balls burned rapidly if touched by a lighted cigar. Hyatt later wrote that “occasionally the violent contact of the balls would produce a mild explosion like a percussion guncap. We had a letter from a billiard saloon proprietor in Colorado, mentioning this fact and saying that he did not care so much about it but that instantly every man in the room pulled a gun.”
… John Wesley Hyatt received 61 patents between 1869 and 1891 for various celluloid-related processes, and by 1880 his company had issued licenses to almost two dozen firms engaged in the manufacture of celluloid dental plates, harness trimmings, knife and cutler handles, emery wheels, brushes, shirt cuffs and collars, shoes, piano keys, and a vast range of other items.’ [Extract]
The notebook comprises about 60 graph-squared pages with gilded edges, that are mostly blank. Endpapers are white moire-pattern. The boards are covered with green-brown, coated paper. The accompanying pencil is topped with ivory or bone.
The image shows a small boat with a swan figurehead, carrying five children. One is leaning over the side, and laying a floral wreath on the water. Another plays a flute as the ceremony is performed. I imagine that this was taken or adapted from an engraving or painting, but it’s a difficult subject to research. If you know the original subject, I’d be pleased to hear from you.
Condition: Very good. Some wear to the paper board covers.
Price: £35.00 plus postage firstname.lastname@example.org