As the years are passing by — quite quickly it seems, these days — I am trying to find a few items in the collectible or antique areas that may be getting harder and harder to find. Items made of celluloid would definitely fall into this category. And this is why I am writing about these rather colorful celluloid boxes for jewelry or individual collars.
As some of us may need to be reminded, In yesteryear, most men’s shirts did not have a collar. Why? In many instances without washing machines in the late 1800s or very early 1900s, the men’s shirts could not be washed every day. Therefore, collars were made separately so they could be replaced on a daily basis for the wearer. He could wear the shirt for more than one day as the collar was actually replaced each morning. Sounds quite feasible, considering people did not have electricity or easy access to washing machines back then.
Hence, the collar boxes were a very important item to most households. There were also jewelry boxes and hankie boxes. Many gorgeous photo albums had covers made of celluloid also.
As this substance is somewhat fragile, many antique items such as these are starting to disintegrate — so sad and definitely not an easy fix.
Keeping these items from heat sources (including sunshine) is very advisable, and yet cold may crack the substance as well. A very temperamental product, indeed.
But in one sense, the fragility of these boxes does make these more valuable, the older the item is, as long as it is cared for regularly. Wiping all dust carefully from the collar boxes, photo album covers or jewelry boxes would definitely help them last longer.
I also have been told through the years that celluloid should not be placed on bare wood. When setting one on top of a dresser, please use a pretty linen or crocheted scarf underneath it.
And never let your perfume spray float over this product. The alcohol in perfume will deteriorate or discolor celluloid combs, brushes, makeup containers, powder jars with lids, nail or manicure sets with celluloid handles ... and the list goes on. It will discolor the celluloid as well as weaken it for future use.
I was reminded that even shirt collars themselves were made of celluloid.
According to Merriam-Webster, celluloid is “a tough flammable thermoplastic composed essentially of cellulose nitrate and camphor.”
Celluloid is believed to have been made first in the 1860s. Records show that it was patented in 1869 and produced starting in 1871. Even toys were made from this plastic-like substance. Naturally, any toy made back then was very fragile. You can find them in mint condition if they had not been played with much. Even the oils from our skin would deteriorate anything made of celluloid.
When washing a piece of celluloid like a small doll, please only use warm water and very little soap or detergent. Do not let it soak. Immediately dry it carefully with a soft cloth.
Referring back to my Victorian-style celluloid (or catalin) collar box again, these materials were, of course, our first plastics, used for so many things. Mostly middle-class gentlemen and ladies would use these collar boxes. When found in so-called “mint condition,” the values increase quite readily, depending on the style. Many would have a beautiful portrait of a young woman in a gold-trimmed oval on top of the collar box, and these are highly collectible today.
Naturally, you could use them for many other things as well as collar boxes, perhaps for jewelry or hankies — maybe even photographs from yesteryear or letters from a sweetheart!
Thus was the beginning of the plastic age, of which we could probably say today “has gone over a bit too much of everything made of a heavier plastic”! Plastic things break too easily — but then again you would have to go out and replace it again and again; thus, the storekeeper relies on return business, even today!
Collar boxes of yesteryear are yet just another “sweet collectible” that you may find along your travels. Enjoy your treasures or finds through the years, and please display for our younger generations to be reminded that “we are not entirely all about new things in our lives.” Please treasure the old as well!