A detailed color wheel breaks down the old book smell

Word cloud of old book smell descriptors
Word cloud of book smell descriptors collected from visitors to the Birmingham Museum / Image: Heritage Science

Where does the scent of old and new books come from? We rounded up the facts about book smell some time ago, but the recently published research article gives new light (or we should rather say “flavor”) to the chemistry of the most addictive scent in the world.

A group of scientists at Institute for Sustainable Heritage (University College London) conducted an experiment to find and analyze the words used to describe the smell of the aged book.

The researchers asked 79 visitors of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to name the unlabelled smells that were presented to them. One of the eight tested odors was a “historic book smell.”

The word cloud you see above collects the most common descriptions of the book smell. The word “chocolate” was picked by a majority of respondents. It’s followed by “coffee,” and “old.” As you see, the descriptions are quite far from the “official” book smell descriptors: vanilla and newly cut grass.

An outcome of the research is Historic Paper Odour Wheel, a novel tool that can 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.

Click or tap the image to see it enlarged.

Color wheel of old book odours

Via Mental Floss.

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