Recovering old film images -- Help!

I have a box full of 35 mm negatives dating back to about 1940 or so. All rolled up and very dry and brittle.
Does anyone have experience in dealing with such with prospects of being able to either digitize the images or enlarging & printing them?
AFIK the film is not nitrate based.

If you can unroll the film enough to get it into a film scanner (you can buy flatbed scanners with transparency capabilities these days for $100 or so) then scan it and forget the film exists. Scan at the highest resolution available in a TIFF format so you capture and retain as much information as possible. (JPEG is a “lossy” format, and once the image detail is gone, it’s gone.)

Film dating back to 1940 is apt to be a hodgepodge of nitrate-based, acetate and who knows what else. Old films decompose in different ways, but unfortunately, they’re all pretty much ireversable.

Something you can try is to get some Kodak Photo-Flo and dip the negs into it (diluted at whatever ratio’s recommended on the bottle) and that should soften the film enough that you can unroll it without cracking the emulsion off. Hang the film to dry (a pair of “chip clips” work well for this) and keep your fingers crossed that the film stays flat. You may want to cut the negs into standard-length strips for easier handling - a 36-exposure strip of wet film is like a yard-long piece of cooked spaghetti, and will twist up like flypaper.

Be aware that this can potentially destroy the film. - I’ve seen cases where the film dries and curls across itself, resulting in a long tube - further attempts to re-wet the film and uncurl it resulted in the emulsion coming off of the film base, resulting in complete loss. Whether or not working woith shorter strips would have prevented this is unknown.

For truly irreplaceable images, there are Jedi Master-level techniques where the emulsion can be intentionally dissolved off the film base and transplanted to new film base, but that’s every bit as difficult and expensive as it sounds.

Paging Lissa… Anyone at your museum work with old photos and negs?

Failed attempts won’t be a disaster as they are only of limited interest/sentimental value.

Thanks for all the suggestions and information it will be helpful and I will get to see what was going on when I bought an Argus 35 back then. Started out wiht B&W and went to some Kodachrome about 1945 or '46. Many rolls of B&W.

I am not a film archivist, but I have friends who are.

IMO this is not good advice. Assuming that we’re talking about B&W still film, it is probably not nitrate, and if it has not been physically damaged, and if it can be unrolled and stored properly henceforth, it will last longer than any currently available digital medium. Film also has the advantage of being human-readable, unlike any digital storage medium. A glance through a box of 50-year-old negatives is enough to tell you what you have. Fifty years from now, if your grandchildren come across this, not only will they be not know what’s on it, they probably won’t have any hardware capable of reading it.

So if you scan your negs (and I have no quibble with gotpasswords’ suggestions for how to scan), do not discard the film.

If the film is color reversal (positive) or negative, chances are the dyes have faded and much of the color information may be lost, although it may be possible to restore it digitally. If you are serious about saving the images, and have unlimited resources, the top of the line method for saving color images is to make RGB separations onto silver-based safety film.

If you can’t afford that, or they just aren’t that valuable, scan them, but still don’t discard the film. Store it in archival storage sleeves in cool dry conditions for possible future restoration.

This sounds right, but check Kodak’s Web site. I’m sure they have extensive information about how to save and preserve old film.

I don’t see why this would be a matter of luck. With proper handling and equipment, you should be able to assure that the film doesn’t touch itself while drying. Like I said, check the Kodak site.

(BTW, Kodak has just announced that it will no longer manufacture or process Kodachrome after the end of this year. Sic transit gloria mundi.)

I never said to throw away the film. For what’s been described as “limited interest/sentimental value” scanning and putting back into the box is likely to be good enough.

I’ve met film conservators, and some of them are downright loony. One, in particular, saved every last morsel, as if the film stock itself was the Holy Grail. I understand preserving images, but she even kept and cataloged fogged leader, which seemed a tad excessive.

Okay, but you understand how “forget the film exists” might be misinterpreted.

Archivists have to be concerned about preserving original materials, even those that are apparently worthless. It may seem loony, but it’s possible that in the future we will be able to extract important information from things like fogged leader. But not if it has been thrown out as useless.