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circa 1943 German acetate tape: anomaly or mine canary?

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2006-10-19 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-10-19 by

A few months ago, I transferred several Tonschreiber tapes which were IG Farben Magnetophonband Typ C manufactured in Germany prior to the end of 1943. These had been stored in their almost-sealed steel cans and stunk. The best description of the smell was old lemon chicken.

We know that the sealed can will accelerate the vinegar syndrome degradation. The big question is are these tapes an anomaly or the mine canary for some (or all) acetate tapes?

The composite photo below shows some of the conditions that we found. Note especially the rolled outer strands showing extreme shrinkage from vinegar syndrome.

Tonschreiber Tape

Click for a larger image.

We were able to transfer these tapes,   but the sound quality suffered due to the unsteadiness of the tape transport. The quality of the sound was due mostly to the fact that this was recorded at 30 in/s (probably 77 cm/s) with a full-track head. Nothing beats areal density for robustness.

Acetate tape buffered by cardboard box

Filed under: storage-care-handling,Tape Aging — 2006-10-16 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-10-16 by

I have been suggesting for many years that one of the reasons that acetate audio tapes have not suffered from vinegar syndrome to the extent that acetate films have suffered from this malady is because of differing storage practices. In general, film for many years was stored in sealed cans while tape has generally been stored in cardboard boxes.

I recently came across a 3-inch reel of acetate tape, not in its original box, that showed the following pattern in the box. This tape was recorded in Fall of 1964 and the photo was taken on October 2006, 42 years later. The tape played well, considering it was originally recorded at 1.88 (1-7/8) in/s.

Box discoloured by acetate breakdown products

All of the outgassed material that was absorbed by the cardboard was no longer free to degrade the tape.

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