Q: How should I store my celluloid purses?
Celluloid is a fragile and highly combustible plastic. It should never be stored near heat. You should also avoid storing it in any location that might get hot like an unventilated attic.

Your celluloid purses should also always be stored in a box that can breath, preferably an acid free cardboard box wrapped in acid free tissue paper. Plastic containers, besides giving off gases, are usually air-tight. As temperature changes over the long term, an air-tight container can cause moisture build up, leading to mold or mildew. Air-tight containers also trap the nitrogen dioxide gases that celluloid gives off as it ages. These gases can be highly flammable if allowed to build up in an unventilated area. So store your purses in a box that allows air to circulate. You’ll also want to avoid storing your celluloid purses wrapped in bubble wrap. Any plastic can absorb the nitrate gases.

If possible, store your celluloid purses completely flat. This will minimize the damage to the bag that can occur along fold lines.

Q: How should I display my celluloid purses?
 Great care should be taken in displaying any antique or vintage purses. Ideally, purses should be displayed flat. A glass-topped coffee table with a display drawer or a flat file display case are ideal options. Again, avoid anything that is air-tight.

Hanging your celluloid purse vertically, even in a frame or display case, puts a great deal of stress on the purse handle and bag. A frame is also a closed environment and can cause the same problems with humidity and trapped gases that you encounter in a closed plastic bin. If you display your purse like this, consider displaying your purse in a frame that easily opens so you can routinely air it out.

Also, rotate you display so no one purse takes all the stress. This also will prompt you to check on your purses. Many a beautiful purse has looked wonderful in a frame only to have an owner check back at later date and discover problems.

Purses should never be displayed in direct sunlight. Long-term exposure to the sun can age not only the bag but can cause the celluloid frame to blanch and crack.

Q: My celluloid purse is dirty, should I clean it?
Celluloid frames can be cleaned if you do it carefully. Never use any cleaning product on a celluloid purse. The chemicals can interact and scar a celluloid purse. You’ll also want to be careful to not remove any paint or dye applied to a celluloid purse. The key is to be very gentle. The most you should ever do is use water and a mild soap. Even this should be done cautiously. Celluloid, as it ages, can actually become more porous and absorb water. If you use water, only use it on a cloth to wipe down the purse. Then use a very soft cloth to dry it. Avoid getting water on any purse bag as it can damage the bag and beads. It is best to leave cleaning of a celluloid purse with a bag to a professional restorer.

Q: What is celluloid disease and how do I protect against it?
 Celluloid disease, also referred to as celluloid rot, is the process by which celluloid decomposes at fast rate. Let’s be up front. All plastics degrade. Celluloid degrades at an even faster rate than most modern plastics because of its unstable molecular structure. Celluloid rot or disease is when this happens at a faster than normal rate.

No one’s quite sure what causes it (interaction with heat, sun and other chemicals have been cited as possible causes), but the result is the polymer compounds begin to unravel.

Celluloid disease is believed to be catching, but no definitive study has been made. However, collectors have found that if other celluloid items are stored with a piece that has celluloid disease, the other items begin to show signs of the same problem. The theory is that the gases given off makes the polymers unstable, infecting the other items.

Celluloid disease is usually introduced by another, infected purse. However, I strongly recommend that you check your stored purses. If you notice a frame that appears to be infected, immediately remove it from your collection and isolate it. Celluloid disease cannot be fixed. But, you’ll want to confirm that your purse is infected before considering abandoning your investment.

Needless to say, you don’t want to purchase a purse with this disease as it’s incurable. Signs of celluloid rot include: brittle and decomposing plastic, flaking and cracking. Celluloid disease will destroy any value that a purse has.