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MFA# 1997.64


Celluloid was originally a trademark [Hoechst Celanese] and is now a generic term for Cellulose nitrate plasticized with Camphor. Celluloid was commercially produced in 1872 by John and Isaiah Hyatt after they patented the material in the U.S. in 1870 (#105,338). Celluloid was marketed as a substitute for Ivory, Horn, Amber, Tortoiseshell for use in piano keys, dolls, buttons, combs, brushes, mirrors, collars, dental plates, and other small items. The tough, transparent sheets and strips of celluloid were also used for photographic and motion picture films as well as animation cels. Celluloid film was cast from a solution of cellulose nitrate with wood alcohol (methanol), amyl nitrate, camphor and fusel oil (amyl alcohol).

Note: Cellulose nitrate plasticized with camphor was patented in 1855 in England by Alexander Parkes and sold as Parkesine and later as Xylonite.

Celluloid tuning peg from an electric guitar

Synonyms and Related Terms

pyroxylin; cellulose nitrate; nitrocellulose; Cellonite; Pyralin; Ivornine;

Ivorite; Xylonite; Ivoride; Zelluloid (Deut.); celluloide (It.); celuloid (Pol.); celluloid (Sven.); celuloide (Esp.); nitrato de celulosa (Esp.); nitrocelulosa (Esp.)

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Burns with a bright, violent flame; smells of nitrogen oxides.
  • Soluble in acetone, amyl acetate, ethanol. Insoluble in water.
CAS 8050-88-2
Density 1.34-1.40 g/ml


  • Flammable.

Resources and Citations

  • J.Reilly, "Celluloid Objects: Their Chemistry and Preservation" JAIC, 145-162, 1991. Link
  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 172
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • C.V.Horie, Materials for Conservation, Butterworth-Heineman, London, 1997
  • History of Plastics: www.nswpmith.com.au/historyofplastics.html
  • The Dictionary of Art, Grove's Dictionaries Inc., New York, 1996 Comment: E.McParland "Ivory" "Plastic"
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Robert Weast (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, v. 61, 1980 Comment: density=1.4
  • George Savage, Art and Antique Restorer's Handbook, Rockliff Publishing Corp, London, 1954

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