Shaping a Celluloid World On View at the Palitz Gallery in New York City Special Collections Research Center

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Bird Library

06-10-2014 to 07-02-2014

After its invention in 1869, celluloid proved to be a remarkably adaptable substance with incredible potential. Celluloid was a durable, hard material that was easy to mold. It could be made into a variety of shapes, and it could be dyed a variety of colors. As such, celluloid could be used to produce many different consumer products. It served as a less expensive material to bring mass-produced goods to an emerging middle class at the turn of the twentieth century. It was a unique material that offered advantages over existing materials, such as ivory, wood, metal, and rubber. It could also be produced cheaply, which allowed for the creation of a variety of disposable items. Celluloid was the first plastic to be used widely and reigned for nearly forty years before it faced competition from other plastics.

Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center contains a wealth of materials documenting the history of plastic. In 2012, Dadie and Norman Perlov enriched this collection with a gift of hundreds of celluloid artifacts. In honor of the Perlov gift, Patricia and Louis Mautino have made a bequest to Syracuse University Libraries endowing the Perlov Celluloid Collection. Many of the objects in this exhibition are drawn from the Perlov collection. Taken together, the objects on display show how celluloid could be imitative or original, a substitute or a novel material, and how cultural ideas shaped a new technology.