Local News

May 13, 2013

Celluloid had wide variety of uses


When celluloid waterproof cuffs and collars were introduced in 1875, they took the men’s fashion world by storm. Celluloid never lost its crisp, white appearance, and grimy sweat could be easily wiped away with soap and water. It wasn’t as comfortable as linen, but it always looked fresh and clean. It was a favorite of clergymen, traveling salesmen, bachelors and the wives of married men. And — at 25 cents — a celluloid collar could last for years, making it much more affordable than natural linen.

One of celluloid’s most celebrated virtues was that it could be made in convincing imitation of expensive luxury materials. For jewelry and fashion accessories, it was produced in jet black, jade, golden amber, coral, imitation marble, mottled tortoiseshell and faux ivory, complete with authentic-looking graining. For the first time in history, middle-class women could wear beautiful jewelry that appeared to be genuine and expensive.

By the late 1890s, sheet celluloid opened a whole new world of possibilities for decorative storage boxes that were made to hold cuffs and collars, manicure sets, dresser sets, jewelry, hand fans, keepsakes and more. The boxes were functional and beautiful, and decorated with scenery, pictures of animals or beautiful women. Some boxes were covered with embossed sheet celluloid that spelled out their intended purpose, such as “Hankies” or “Neckties,” while others simply showed an image describing its purpose, like a hand fan or a woman wearing a lovely ornamental hair comb. Decorated sheet celluloid also covered prayer books, photograph and autograph albums, and it was used to make political pinback buttons, advertising pocket mirrors, business cards, postcards, ink blotters and more.


By the turn of the 20th century, celluloid-type plastics were being made by four different companies in America; the Celluloid Manufacturing Company, the DuPont Arlington Company, the Fiberloid Company and the Viscoloid Company. 

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