Each week here, I’ll be posting photos of, and discussing, a Polaroid product from way-back-when. Many, but not all, will be coming from the deep recesses of a storage closet in my apartment. (Yes, I have a very tolerant wife.)
Today’s artifact is a fun one: A case of Polaroid roll film, unopened. “Use by December 1953.” Er, didn’t quite happen.
Type 41 was Polaroid’s original black-and-white film, introduced in 1950. (Its predecessor, Type 40, was the original Polaroid Land film, and made sepia photos.) Meroë Morse, a remarkable young Smith College graduate who worked for Edwin Land, was its midwife—Land himself being the one who birthed it. It was groundbreaking, and turning brown-and-white into black-and-white was (Land later said) among the toughest things Polaroid ever pulled off.
But it was not a perfect product. A few months after Type 41 was introduced, customers began to report that their photos were fading, and the chemists rushed back to the lab. A stopgap solution was cooked up by a colleague of Morse’s named Elkan Blout, and it was called film coater–a little tube containing a swab soaked in liquid plastic that was packed with every Picture Roll. Customers were instructed to lay each new photo flat and paint it with this nasty vinegary-smelling stuff. Though it was a mess, it worked pretty well, and may have saved Polaroid. It also inadvertently started a practice that we still see today.
Because those freshly coated photos were wet, people tended to wave them in the air to dry them off. In other words, this stuff created the Polaroid Shake. Never mind that later films were coaterless, or that today’s instant photos may actually be harmed by vigorous shaking. Most people shake anyway, and if you ask them why, you often get a baffled look: “I don’t know… it makes the photo develop faster?” (For the record, it doesn’t.) When Outkast’s Andre 3000 sang “Shake it like a Polaroid picture,” he probably did not realize that he was celebrating a ghost in the machine, going all the way back to 1950. But he was.
Side note: My wife noted that the guy on the box looks a bit like Edwin Land. I think she’s right, and I bet it’s not a coincidence.
LEGALITIESThis site is not connected with or endorsed by Polaroid or PLR IP Holdings, owners of the Polaroid trademark.
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