Friday, December 6, 2013

Celluloid Dresser Sets

Celluloid was a common material used to manufacture vanity and dresser sets starting in the mid 1800s up until around the 1930s, when it was replaced by other plastics like Bakelite and Lucite.

Wikipedia states that "Celluloid is the name of a class of compounds created from nitrocellulose and camphor, plus dyes and other agents. Generally regarded to be the first thermoplastic, it was first created as Parkesine in 1856 and as Xylonite in 1869 before being registered as Celluloid in 1870.

Celluloid is easily molded and shaped, and it was first widely used as an ivory replacement. Celluloid is highly flammable and also easily decomposes, and is no longer widely used. Its most common uses today are in table tennis balls and guitar picks."

More detailed information on the manufacture and patenting of celluloid, can be found on wikipedia.

Some of the trade names used on the dresser accessories are:

  • Pyralin/Pyrolin
  • French Ivory
  • Agalin
  • Celluloid
  • Fiberloid
  • Ivory Fiberloid
  • Ivoroid
  • Zylonite
  • Ivoris
  • Ivorine
  • Arch-Amerith
  • Goldaleur
  • Silvaleur
  • Product trade
  • names similar to celluloid:
  • Premalite
  • Meletone
  • Pierretone

Celluloid dresser sets were very plain in the Victorian and Edwardian periods, they were made to simulate ivory and tortoiseshell. Starting in the 1920s and into the 1930s, pieces began to becomes more ornate and many were studded with rhinestones or had engraved and picked out in enamel.

Celluloid also came with various finishes or motifs. Goldaleur and Silvaleur were celluloid pieces laminated with silver or gold glitter. Other laminated effects such as stripes and banding were also popular. Double composite sets, those with two toned celluloid decorating were all the rage in the late teens and into the 1920s. Items could also be accented with engraved monograms or flourishes. The most common of the double composites was the usage of amber celluloid overlaid with marbled celluloid in various hues such as nile or jade green, peach, amber, or pearl. Starting in 1928, Lucite dresser sets started to replace those made up of marbled celluloid.

Dresser sets could include any of the following accessories:

  • Hand mirror
  • Brushes in various sizes and shapes
  • Shoe horn
  • Powder box
  • Rouge or salve pots
  • Hair reciever
  • Comb
  • Manicure implements: hair tweezers, finger rest, cuticle knife, corn knife, nail picks, nail file, nail buffer, cuticle scissors
  • Toothbrush
  • Candlestick
  • Picture frame
  • Large tray
  • Pin tray
  • Hatpin holder
  • Boudoir clock
  • Buttonhook 
  • Glove stretcher
  • Perfume or Cologne bottle in celluloid caddy
  • Perfume atomizer
  • Sewing implements, including scissors, stilettos, needle cases, winders, spools
  • Boudoir lamp
  • Tooth powder bottle
  • Talcum shaker
  • Bud vases
  • Bonnet brush
  • Soap box
  • Hair pin holder
  • Jewel box
  • Pin cushion
  • Glove box
  • Handkerchief box
  • Shaving brush
  • Shaving stick case
  • Tooth brush box
  • and other items

Some of the finest dresser sets came in elaborate cases in the late Victorian era. Many of these cases stood upright and were fitted with a multitude of manicure implements, perfume bottles, hand mirrors, brushes and combs, rouge pots and powder boxes.

Celluloid must be handled and stored with care, it is extremely flammable and should be kept away from heat sources. Heat will melt, distort or ignite the celluloid. Goldaleur and Silvaleur dresser sets are especially vulnerable to a corrosion of the plastic laminate which results in ugly verdigris chemical bloom, a greening which is irreversible and will spread to your other pieces.

If one of your pieces is starting to corrode or show any sort of damage, throw it away, if not kept away from your other pieces, the glasses caused by the chemicals breaking down will spread to your other pieces and they will soon start to disintegrate too.

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