Smallest: 1 3/8 in. (3.5 cm)
Largest: 1 7/8 in. (4.7 cm)
Celluloid, the first entirely synthetic plastic, was invented by John Wesley Hyatt (1837-1920) of Albany in 1869. It is created from nitrocellulose and camphor along with dyes and other agents. Hyatt first developed the material as a less expensive alternative to ivory in the production of billiard balls. Hyatt's invention was patented in 1869 and subsequently used for a wide range of objects, both in imitation of expensive animal products like ivory, horn, and tortoiseshell, and also as an inexpensive medium for objects such as dresser sets, jewelry, picture frames, and advertising giveaways. Celluloid, which is both flammable and fragile, was gradually supplanted by the stronger Bakelite in the 1920s. Celluloid continues to be used today for making Ping Pong balls and guitar picks.
Gift of Dadie and Norman Perlov and Daughters
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Museum & Library Map
Floor plan & visitor information
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
New York, NY 10024