The aroma of an old book is familiar to every user of a traditional library. A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much part of the book as its contents.
— Quoted in Scientists nose out clue to preserving books: their smell at the Guardian.
Love that scent, that and Attic. And Antique Store. They have a lot iin common and send me into a zen-like state. T
“T” was for “treasure.”
Love the smell of old books! I used to do cataloging in an old library that had a fabulous old & rare collection….it was my favorite room in the entire library!
It’s a great smell, but also the smell of books degrading…it was an interesting article.
As a teenager, I fell in love with Mitsouko because it reminded me irresistibly of old library books. I loved that smell!
Nina – I never realized that until you said it. Yes, indeed, Mitsouko is a lovely old wood and leather study with lots and lots of parchment volumes….
Oh, man, the smell of antiques stores makes my skin crawl. I do, however, love the smell of some old books. I also love the plastic-chemical smell of some magazines, like National Geographic.
yeah, I like that inky smell too….probably is killing brain cells like crazy….us old gals remember the days of sniffing the purple mimeograph copies in elementary school…fresh off the printer! It was the best thing to get picked to make the trip to the office to pick up a stack of copies for class! Nose-hits all the way down the hall!
Don’t get me started on the great grade school smells of yesteryear! White paste with the minty smell, Elmer’s glue, new crayons, gum erasers, the inside of the cigar boxes that we used as pencil boxes…. I always loved the smell of Play Doh too, but that wasn’t a school smell. Face it youngsters, cell phones and laptops just don’t have the same great smells.
I wish Demeter put out a mimeograph scent. My mom was an elementary school teacher and I grew up with that scent, not just at school but also at home.
CdG 2 Woman has a slightly ditto paper-ish vibe, at least to this old gal.
Ooh, another reason I need to try that one!
Miss the old smell of the ditto machine…
I’m with Andrea– I hate the smell of junk shops (antique stores) and attics. No doubt it’s the underlying mildew note that gets me; makes me fear a return of my childhood asthma. As long as books are simply old, not “foxed” or otherwise mildewy, they’re not bad. And, again like Andrea, I like the smell (and the feel) of glossy magazines.
Most of my house smells like old books, so luckily I like it too
Add me to this camp. I don’t like being in antique stores or used book stores. That old, musty smell along with the clutter is depressing to me. It’s interesting to me that those places hold appeal for so many people!
I still remember the smell of the library / study room in my school. That was more than 20 years ago :-). I also love the smell of the pages of old books (without the dreaded mildew note of course). Love the description in the article. Thanks for sharing Robin.
Old school library is a wonderful smell…
I love the smell of old books, but not the ones left out in the rain. Robin, you do post some interesting articles. Great job.
That’s actually very exciting research. The traditional method of determining how brittle a given piece of paper is is turning down a corner of a leaf to see how easily it breaks! So if they can develop a reliable way to measure brittleness just by analyzing odor compounds, without actually damaging the paper, that truly would be a breakthrough.
Sorry for the nerdy enthusiasm…I do work in a rare book and manuscript library.
It pleased my inner nerd too
When I was a little girl, we used to visit this great old library a few small towns over at least once a week. The place had been there for generations and had the most wonderful old books smell. I used to seek out the most unpopular topics, which were usually off in the dimmest and least visited corners, and just mill about enjoying the fragrance of the books combined with a hint of dust. It got even better during mid-day when the small building’s smell took on an added warmth from absorbing all the sun’s golden heat. I used to curl up with a Dr. Seuss book at a front table, loving the multi-sensory experience of the words and fragrance coming from the pages.
My mother also took me to a lot of antique/rummage book sales, particularly the really big ones. Even now, we still try to burn through at least one book a week, even if mine are audio and don’t have that great smell. But I remember picking up the old hardcovers and gently fanning the pages to try and imagine the book’s history and catch hints of that wonderful fragrance. Demeter needs to make an Old Book candle/room spray!
Once when a girlfriend and I were at a bookshop in the mall, we got to discussing this topic and she emphatically agreed, grabbing some silly romance novel off a nearby shelf. “Smell the crack! It’s so wonderful!” she declared, pushing the spine of the book against her nose. A stockist rounded the corner with a cart of books just at that moment and gave us the oddest look. We laughed until our bellies hurt. Quietly, of course.
I still read paper, but I also read on my iTouch & listen to audio books, and yes, it’s the thing I miss most about paper — the smell.
I was obsessed with book smells as a kid — in fact, there were books I refused to read because I didn’t like the smell of the paper!
Yum. Old book smell! I forget which fragrance was described by LT as being for a “ferociously intelligent librarian” (A Le Labo?) as it smelled of old books- in a good way.
However, I feel the need to put in a good word for “new book fragrance”. I spend my days cataloging brand new books, and there is a lovely smell of new paper, ink, and glue that is wonderful. It seems to emanate best from art type coffee table books. I try and think all of the stuff I handle will develop a “good” smell as it ages, not a “badly handled, grubby fingers, poor defiled library book” kind of way.
Several folk of the library profession around here, aren’t there?
I think we do have quite a few librarians…that came up in one of the polls.
I love new book smell too, although I would swear ink doesn’t smell the same way it used to.
Turin was probably referring to Patchouli 24, by Annick Ménardo, who also created Bulgari Black which has its own woody-vanilla scent.
When I was a graduate student, I used to study in old library stacks, the more obscure the better so I wasn’t distracted from my work (I’d still pick up things and waste time reading things like the 1938 volume of some professional whaler’s journal whose ads had great b&w graphics). I loved that old book/musty attic smell, and when I came across it in Patchouli 24, I had to buy a bottle. It’s turned into one of my favorite fragrances.
Yes, howdy, that’s me. I live in a world of old and new materials everyday! I love the smell of old books too. But thankfully my library for the most part doesn’t have that smell. Unfortunately, once your books get to that lovely smell, they are on a sad downward trajectory. One of the reasons old books smell so wonderful as they age is because of all the natural ingredients in them that are missing from modern books: leather, book glue (normally made from some animal glue), natural paper (wood or cotton), and older perhaps non-chemical inks.
I’m going to get up on my soap box now… Musty smells (eg mildew) should NEVER be tolerated on books or other paper materials. It is the kiss of death and can actually infect volumes shelved nearby. There should be no mercy for books with mildew. If you own something with mildew that is very important, it should be isolated from other books. I can tell you everyday the sad book donations that come into my library that reek of must, mildew, and cig/cigar smoke. Anyone who lets books get that bad, doesn’t really care about them. …. but I digress.
And I agree totally with Nina above that Mitsouko smells like old books. I never realized that until she said it. Lovely. At L’Air de Desert Marocain also reminds me of book smell.
And, btw, for all the Portlanders out there: the best used book store ever with the best old book smell was the Great Northern Book Store in NW Portland. RIP. What a great store.
Sad mildewy book smell. Very bad. I used to see those donations all the time. We usually let them sit in their box for a few days, and then spirit them off to some dumpster FAR away from the library. To many people would get upset if they knew we threw away books. No matter how bug-infested.
But the decaying smell of leather, glue, and paper is what makes for a beautiful fragrance. So… decay = good fragrance?
I’m a former library worker, too. We used to have a room a long way from the collections to store our “book sale” books; it reeked of six kinds of mold and mildew.
Hmmm, I might have to download the journal article, if the university where I work has the Analytical Chemistry subscription. I’m curious about their methodology.
Let us know if it says something interesting (or interesting to perfumistas, I mean)
Oh yeah…totally. I’m an analytical chemist, quite tempted to inject a sample of OJ Ormonde Woman into one of our instruments LOL. What a complex scent.