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Subject: Edison phonograph cylinders

Edison phonograph cylinders

From: Geoffrey I. Brown <gibrown>
Date: Tuesday, October 22, 1996
Sue Dunlap <sdunlap [at] ACS__WOOSTER__EDU> writes

>A fellow employee asked me how to safely remove mold from old Edison
>phonograph cylinders made out of wax.

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

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.

If you need more info or are interested in transcribing the
cylinders, please contact me and I will be happy to give you some
guidelines and refer you to people who have equipment for safe

Geoffrey Brown
Curator of Conservation
Kelsey Museum
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1390

                  Conservation DistList Instance 10:41
                Distributed: Wednesday, October 23, 1996
                       Message Id: cdl-10-41-002
Received on Tuesday, 22 October, 1996

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