Inside the Nitrate Vaults

If you go out into the middle of the woods, and over a hill, and around a corner, you will find a gate.

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Beyond it there lies a vault. Now this vault was originally built as an art vault in order to hide the art from the Rijksmuseum from the Nazis.

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Now it holds thousands of cans of nitrate films that need to be assessed on a regular basis for degradation. But you find other interesting things while the search is on!

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This adventure was on of the more interesting things I have done in my life! Nitrate film can degrade in a couple of different ways, and there were s couple of signs you could spot on the outside of cans if they were bad enough.

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Some of the worst ones I saw that week had eaten through their cans entirely.

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You can be sure that we were all wearing coveralls, dust masks, and plastic gloves to protect ourselves.

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We also had our own personal fireman who never let us forget that there was also a very real fire hazard that we needed to be wary of too.

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But even with the physical work involved, and all the dust, there were lots of fun things to find and discover. The diversity of colour and patterning could be spectacular!

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Spoking is another decomposition trait we were looking for where the film crimps like the spokes of a wheel. Here is a great example of this, though there were more severe cases.

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Thankfully most of the films we checked were perfectly healthy.

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We opened 11,000 cans that week, and I can tell you now that I didn’t need to go to the gym after that workout either! I made new friends, strengthened old connections, and just had an amazing time while working hard and helping to preserve this nations film history!

One thought on “Inside the Nitrate Vaults

  1. Such a cool experience! I’m glad you were able to snap some pictures to share the adventure with us.

    Is the examination done for the entire collection every year? or a portion of the collection each year? Do they have in-house staff who can evaluate repair and restoration options?

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