The good old smell of the print book is one of the major reasons some people don’t try digital reading.
A paper book consists of an organic material which reacts with light, heat, or moisture, but most importantly – with the chemicals used in the production process.
The smell of a book evolves with time, as the paper decays due to its acidity. The next factor that can modify the smell is the reaction of the book to external materials, for instance, the paper or foil the book is wrapped in.
Why is the smell of books so addictive? Because it’s tied to memory, most likely from the childhood.
What we have to keep in mind is that the nose is one of the strongest ways to trigger memories, because it’s tied directly into the limbic system – the system which regulates our emotions.
We’ll be updating this post every time new infographic, picture, or video about book smell will be released. Stay tuned!
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Book smell in infographics, charts, and videos
1. The aroma of old and new books
This is by far the most detailed explanation of the chemistry behind the book smell.
In the infographic prepared by Compound Interest, you’ll see compared the compounds responsible for the smell of both the old and new paper book.
As with all aromas, the origins can be traced back to a number of chemical constituents, so we can examine the processes and compounds that can contribute to both.
When you buy a new book, you’ll mostly feel the smell of paper itself, the ink used to print the book, the adhesives used in the book-binding process.
The old book smell is a result of the degradation of the three main ingredients described above. What you’ll feel is a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla.
2. Why do old books smell so good?
Here is a simpler way to learn about the addictive nature of the old book smell. The chart was prepared by the publishing house Blooming Twig.
3. The smell of the old book – where does it come from
Richard from explains how old books get have the distinctive smell all book lovers know and love so much.
Chemists at University College, London have investigated the old book odor and concluded that old books release hundreds of volatile organic compounds into the air from the paper.
The lead scientist described the smell as “A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.”
4. Why we love the smell of old books
A few years ago a team of researchers from around the world conducted a study on the smell of old books. The smell is a mix of hundreds of ingredients, so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper.
Some of the compounds were common to all the tested books: acetic acid, benzaldehyde, butanol, furfural, or methoxyphenyloxime, to name the few.
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.
5. An addictive smell of old books explained
The video created by SciShow explains the science behind the old book smell.
In short, the scent comes from chemical compounds in three parts of the book: the paper, the ink, and the bindings.
6. The smell of old books
From Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, written by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, comes one of the most stunning brilliant explanations of the phenomenon of the book smell.
Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.
Bonus – scented candle that smells like old books
Antique Books is an original recipe for a scented candle, developed by Werther & Gray, which replicates the scent of old books.
The inspiration for this candle begins with the fragrant chemicals generated by the breakdown of material in the aged paper.
7. Color wheel of old book smell
This color wheel was created by scientists at University College London, and is based on the results of the research conducted among the visitors of the old library in Birmingham.
This color wheel is designed to help an untrained nose identify an aroma and associate it with the chemical causing it.
The wheel contains eight main categories – they are placed inside the inner circle. The descriptors are grouped on the middle lever. The outer circle is reserved for the likely chemical compound causing the smell.
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