Cleaning and Preservation of Cylinders and Discs


The information below are excerpts from the Conservation DistList which can be found by visiting the Conservation OnLine site at http://palimpsest.stanford.edu.


Table of Contents
Geoffrey Brown
Geoffrey Brown
Susan T. Stinson
Geoffrey Brown

Cleaning Cylinders

Geoffrey Brown
Curator of Conservation
Kelsey Museum
University of Michigan

In the early 70's I carried out a project which involved, prior to transcription, cleaning over 3000 wax cylinders, most of which had fungal growth on them. The same technique (and the equipment I built) were then used by the Library of Congress (for 9000+ cylinders) and the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University (for 7000+ cylinders). This cleaning process was quite simple and extremely effective:

1. Mix a tepid solution of Labtone Detergent (a proprietary formulation from VWR Scientific) until the mixture feels slippery (about 1% or so). Use deionized water to mix.

2. Immerse each cylinder in the solution while holding it with spread fingers inserted into the interior only.

3. Saturate a small (3x6") piece of polyester velvet or velveteen in the solution and while the cylinder is immersed, gently drag the velveteen around the cylinder's circumference, allowing the pile of the velveteen to gently "scrub" the grooves.

4. Rinse the cylinder thoroughly in running deionized water and stand on-end to dry on an absorbent or drained surface. The remaining water will bead on the surface and may be removed with "Webril Wipes" or similar non-abrasive cotton wipers (used for cleaning copier machine drums).

The reason that I specify Labtone is that it is a balanced detergent that is formulated to effectively remove organic gunk and oily material. It is very effective on removing the fungal mycelium but doesn't harm the wax. It rinses off completely, leaving no residue. This detergent is intended for hand washing, so it doesn't destroy your skin although you will probably want to wear surgical gloves to protect the cylinders from skin oils. Although I have tested a broad range of other formulated laboratory detergents and individual detergent agents, none seems to perform as well as Labtone for this
application.

Avoid returning cleaned cylinders to the original packing. Discard any wool, cotton, glassine or felt liners in the cylinder boxes (they are actually pasteboard tubes) and insert new liners of 2-3 smoothly fitted layers of polyester felt. Cylinder boxes should be ventilated to avoid further fungal growth and often have a hole in the bottom which serves this purpose. If no hole is present, it might be a good idea to cut a 1" diameter hole in the box bottom. Alternatively, the Library of Congress had developed a nifty telescoping archival cylinder box that supports the cylinder from the inside on pyramid-shaped projections. They may still have these available and might be willing to sell a few.

Cleaning Shellac Discs

Geoffrey Brown
Curator of Conservation
Kelsey Museum
University of Michigan

The best material I have found for washing phono disks is a solution of Labtone Detergent in deionized H2O. Buy some polyester velvet to use as a cleaning cloth--the pile is soft but gets into the grooves effectively without scratching (like the old cleaning pads).

Labtone is a proprietary brand name of VWR Scientific. It is a balanced detergent primarily formulated for hand washing of lab glassware. It is very effective on all sorts of organic gunk such as skin oils, fungus remains, coke, and coffee with cream and sugar. It is also effective on oily material.

It rinses off totally (in deionized water, of course) so there is no residue to worry about. No other detergent that I have used, proprietary or generic has matched its performance, characteristics, clear-rinsing, or near-neutrality.

Never use Ivory or any other dishwashing liquid as they contain materials that are intended to remain on the surface after rinsing. Photo-flo is OK but doesn't clean as well as the Labtone and also leaves a residue--remember it is designed to make the water wetter so that it sheets evenly and doesn't leave spots as it dries!

With Labtone and deionized water, there will be only a few discrete droplets of water left on the surface. These can be quickly dried with "Webril Wipes", 100% cotton wipes used by the printing and copier people. AB Dick also markets these wonderful things under their own name. I find the 3x3" size in the paper sleeve the most economical, but they are also available on a perforated roll like paper towels--very convenient but a bit more expensive. *Never* use paper towels.

Be careful with solid shellac or shellac-surfaced disks. Water can penetrate and swell the shellac causing permanent damage. This is usually apparent by a noticeable "blanching" or clouding. Avoid alcohols as they can quickly dissolve the shellac.

If you try washing shellac disks, test first on an edge or on a duplicate of the same type. Wash, rinse, and dry *quickly* and you will probably not have any problems. Room temperature or slightly cooler water is best for washing any disks, but avoid warm water especially with the shellac. Wetting agents like dishwashing detergents or Photo-flo can exacerbate the blanching problem as some contain alcohols and they extend the drying time.

The trick with shellac is to expose it to moisture the absolute minimum of time, if at all.

Preserving Cylinders

Susan T. Stinson, Curator
Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive
Syracuse University Library

This is in reply to the inquiry about removing mold from wax cylinders. While I have heard of methods to make the mold drop off the wax surface, they are not practical since the mold has 'eaten' the wax which was in the space now occupied by the mold, and pits will be the result. Basically, that area of the recording is partly or completely gone.

I find it advisable to leave the mold where it is, cleaning the record gently with clean velvet or lint-free cloth and storing the cylinders in a dry, temperate location. During playback, there will be some noise due to the presence of the mold and in proportion to the amount of mold. A few spots will not interfere too much with the recording; a great deal of mold cover will make it difficult to recover much of the original recording.

It's a problem which we can minimize by giving these recordings optimum care and also transferring them to a more stable format if possible, since age is a natural enemy of many sound recording formats.

If you would like to read more about cylinder records, I recommend the Fall 1995 issue (Vol. 26 no. 2) of the Journal of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC). This issue is devoted to various aspects of this type of recording; some articles contain bibliographic citations for numerous other books and articles on the subject.

Preserving Cylinders

Geoffrey Brown
Curator of Conservation
Kelsey Museum
University of Michigan

Cylinders are attacked by fungus and the residue is the fungal mycelium. The fungus feeds on and etches the surface, sometimes to the degree that the sound information encoded in the grooves is lost or severely damaged. Ediphone cylinders use a hill-and-dale coding method (vertical variations of the bottom of the groove) so that any additional or extraneous pitting (from fungus or mechanical damage) reproduces as noise. Extensive damage can destroy the groove geometry so that mechanical pick-up styli will not track properly. There are, however, non-mechanical transcription and signal restoration techniques that have been developed and are in the process of development outside the U.S.

Although most of us who have worked with this media consider the cylinders as artifacts, per se, the sound information recorded on them is usually of greater importance than the physical cylinder itself. The cylinder continues to be of value, however, especially as new technologies are being developed which can extract more accurate and complete transcriptions than the techniques we used in
the past.

For the cleanest transcription of cylinders (as well as the best preservation), it is necessary to remove all of the fungal body, debris and dirt from the grooves. Any such material left in the grooves will reproduce as noise and may obscure any signal coding that remains at the bottom of the grooves. In my direct experience with over 3000 Edison and Dictaphone cylinders, both "amateur" and commercially produced recordings, I did not run into any problems with the washing technique I described in a recent posting, nor were any problems reported regarding the additional 16,000+ cylinders for which, I believe, this technique was adopted. There were hundreds of proprietary (and often small production) formulations for these cylinders, however, so one must be ever cautious!

Re-use of the cotton wadding packaging is not recommended. I would add that cylinders should be stored in non-hygroscopic or minimally hygroscopic materials in moderate RH below 50%. Most of the mold damage we see is directly attributable to the high-RH microclimate created around each individual cylinder by the hygroscopic cotton or wool wadding. This situation was often compounded by an overwrap of glassine paper. I was able to correlate degree of fungal damage with original packaging method for the 3000 cylinders that I processed, and I believe that others found the same relationships.


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