The Science Behind the “Old Books Smell”
That “old books smell” is hard to beat, isn’t it? That particular scent brings me back to my days as a student, when I would spend lots of time browsing the shelves of the library. As the case usually is with university libraries, a considerable part of their collection are old books. And yeah, that smell has become firmly embedded in my memory.
I am pretty sure that I am not alone in this. In these days when even those who like the feel and smell of (paper) books are looking to e-books, the yearning for the old books smell still has a strong following. But have you ever thought about the scientific explanation for this?
With all the studies and research projects going on, it is not surprising that a group made it their mission to find out why exactly old books emit that odor. At the University College, London, researchers have found out that hundreds of volatile chemicals are released from the paper into the air. These are the incorporated into the process of making the paper used for the books, as well as the printing process. These chemicals are slowly released over the years, hence the old books smell.
The video below gives the details about the old books smell, and suprisingly (or not), the aroma is described as “combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness”. Mustiness is totally expected, isn’t it? But what about vanilla? Maybe that’s why the old books smell is so attractive. After all, vanilla does smell good!
Here’s the video for your viewing pleasure. Don’t blame me if you suddenly dig out your old books from storage!