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The Science of the “Old Book” Smell


Bibliophiles everywhere know exactly what Old Book smell is. They also know what new book smell is. They know the particular aroma of the disorganized stacks of a small book shop, the promise in the scent of a huge chain bookstore, buried beneath the coffee of the inevitable cafe. Can scent out the stall full of antique volumes at the antique mall. It’s a smell so well known that a perfume has been made to replicate it. And it’s a smell that has kept many book lovers wary of the Kindle and the Nook, reading experiences that can’t replicate it- at least, not without an additional purchase.

If asked to explain what that smell is, a garbled answer about paper, ink, decay, and dust might be mustered, but generally the best and most common response is a shrug and a, “I don’t know. I just love it.”

Apparently, scientists love the smell too, or at least were curious about the source of the scent that’s like catnip for readers. So for those scientifically minded, or merely curious, a helpful chart was put together to explain the origins of that elusive and alluring scent. (Hint: mostly it’s chemicals, adhesives and the scent of the cellulose of the pages breaking down.)

So all hail to the smell of books! Now go out there, crack open an old tome, stick your nose in it and share in that most primordial collective experience of book lovers everywhere. Sorry, ereaders, but while you might cut down on our vacation packing, you’ll never really rule our hearts.


book sniffing

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One comment

  1. Jason Alan - PHATE

    Oh man, my first real foray into epic fantasy literature was The Sword of Shannara, and I bought it having no idea what it was at the time. It was destiny. I bought it in this little closet of a used bookstore that was so wonderful and rich with the “Old Book Smell.” The aroma was thick, and the place was just wonderful, out of a fantasy tale itself. Tight little corridors and aisles that stretched high into the air, shelves overflowing with books. I got a first run print of Shannara, right when original trilogy Star Wars was ruling the earth, and I had just discovered D and D from my older brother…magical times. And geez, that bookstore, ripe with Old Book Smell. ahhhhhhhh….. 🙂