Legacy Content

Bob Welbuam: But What About Collecting?
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by Bob Welbaum (archives)
July 9, 2009
Bob recounts some collecting horror stories with Ron Stark of S/R Laboratories, a company that provides conservation, restoration (including three-dimensional and photographic items) and consulting services. They also take a look at some of the technicalities involved in restoring artwork.

It’s always fun to discuss the glamour topics – voice-acting, Imagineering, animation, etc. But first and foremost we are collectors, whether our individual tastes run to figurines, pins, animation art, or simply memories. So this time let’s talk about collecting.

One of the most informative (and entertaining) collecting programs I’ve ever heard was presented by Ron Stark, Director of S/R Laboratories, at the 2006 NFFC Convention. S/R Labs is a multi-faceted company, conducting periodic auctions of animation art, providing appraisals, maintaining a custom-framing shop, and owning the venerable Courvoisier Galleries – which was the first to market Disney animation art beginning in 1938. But the company is best known for its Animation Art Conservation Center (S/R actually stands for “Search/Rescue”), which provides conservation, restoration (including three-dimensional and photographic items) and consulting services. How the Conservation Center was developed is a story in itself. For now, let’s just say that as a close personal friend of Mickey Mouse, Ron delights in not only helping collectors but occasionally surprising them as well.

On this occasion, Ron’s presentation was intended as a cautionary tale; he discussed some of the maintenance and conservation aspects that are crucial to art collections, interspersed with horror stories about what not to do. For example:

Horror Story #1

A lady brought in an animation cell, and was holding it vertically by her thumb and fingers, somewhat like you would hold a sheet of paper. She exclaimed to Ron, “You know, the paint is falling off.”

Ron replied, “Wow, that’s amazing! Why don’t you hold it flat?”

Her reaction? “Oh, good idea!”


What is it about collectible artwork that causes people to have episodes of temporary insanity? But don’t worry, it gets worse.

What are the two most dangerous threats to your art, especially animation art? Many would say light and heat. But Ron knows they are actually neglect and trauma. See what you think as we discuss some basic care precautions and what can go wrong.

S/R Labs provides many different kinds of restoration services. But since they are most famous for animation art, let’s begin by discussing cels. Of course cels do age. Unfortunately, they can reach a point of no return; that’s called “cel necrosis” – cel death. A cel is a piece of art where the support is in the center. It’s a sandwich; the ink is on one side, the paint is on the other. When the support dies, the art dies, so the cel must be kept alive. That’s the key to conservation – the cel itself. Interestingly enough, cels age at different rates because they are each made slightly differently, one from another, and may have been made by different manufacturers. Even cels from the same scene can age at different rates. When cels are piled one on top of another, there’s an absence of air as they release gaseous stuff [technical term]. “Yes, cels have gas.” Cels do off-gas, which in the case of the old-style cels – the nitrocellulose cels – it’s nitric acid and other chemicals; in the case of acetate cels, the newer stuff, that’s acetic acid. If you smell vinegar, that’s acetic acid, and that’s when you need to have your cel cleaned. Send your cels to be cleaned professionally every three to five years so all the oxides and acetic acid that “grow” on the surface can be removed. Also, cels age from the center out. Don’t ask why, they just do. They embrittle at the center and the resulting effect is a pulling like taffy.

At what point do you give up the restoration? Ron flatly states “We never give up.” But there does come a time when any collectible will reach a certain age and condition where restoration is no longer possible.

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