That “Old Book Smell” Is a Mix of Grass and Vanilla

We love this post on the tactile smell of old books from Smithsonian Mag: old books

The article discusses the “chemistry of old books” that “gives your cherished tomes their scent.”

With age, the chemical makeup utilized in pressing the books, including the “the glue, the paper, the ink–begin to break down.” These compounds then contribute to the scent we all recognize when handling an old book.

“A common smell of old books, says the International League for Antiquarian Booksellers, is a hint of vanilla: ‘Lignin, which is present in all wood-based paper, is closely related to vanillin. As it breaks down, the lignin grants old books that faint vanilla scent.’

Matija Strlic, the lead scientist behind a 2009 study which researched the “hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper” describes the smell of an old book:

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 a part of the book as its contents.

Leave a Reply