Sunday, April 7, 2013

Olde Book Smell

"A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness"; is how a study from a team of chemists describe the unique odor of olde books. Sounds rather poetic, for sure, but what causes the odor of olde books?

Books are made up almost entirely of organic materials- paper, ink, glue, fibers. All these materials react to light, heat, moisture and even each other over the years, and release a number of  "volatile organic compounds"  (VOCs). While the blend of compounds released by any one book is dependent on the exact things that went into making it, there's only so much variation in materials.
Researchers tested approx 72 various stages of olde books and found some 15 compounds that came up again and again. They were reliable markers for degradation. These compounds include acetic acid, benzaldehyde, butanol, furfural, octanal, methoxyphenyloxime and many other chemicals with odd sounding names, that I cannot even spell. Imagine that! At least I've given you a few to think about, Eh.
A book's smell is also influenced by its environment and materials it encounters over the course of its life; which is why some books have hints of tobacco, coffee, and even pet smells.
You all knew Jack would make an appearance :)
You can't judge books by their covers, however; you can learn a lot from their odor. As technology advances, methods for determining the condition and age of books and other paper documents are developed and continue to be developed by using special "sniffing" equipment to analyze the blend of VOCs. The advancement of these methods or this study of "degradomics" will essentially enable libraries, museums and archives assess and monitor the health of new and older collections and better assist in the storing and caring of "Olde Books" accordingly.
I have quite a library here at home; books collected over the years - some short reads to be passed on - yet, some to remain "Collected" and cared for on my shelves. Just a few samples of my bookshelves below :)
Although I also have a kindle, there is nothing that's quite like the olde or new smell of an actual book.



Gail said...

Books have always been special in my life.

Lately I have been letting go of books. I have few left and when I read it goes to someone else.

Great things to know. I know I love the smell of old and new books.

Jack is looking pretty as usual.

Jana said...

Dear Lilly, I love old books, your collection seems great! and Jack is so cute! happy new week from cold but sunny tulipland:-)

Red said...

Okay, the most important thing for me is that you are a reader! I spent most of my life trying to get kids to become readers. I even spent six years on the local library board. Yes, the coming thing will be ebooks.

Linda said...

Great, nostalgic post. Thank you so much for sharing. Jack is adorable.

Red Nomad OZ said...

Fascinating! But do they bottle it? I'd LOVE to wear Eau de Olde Book!!!

Eau de Kindle doesn't really have the same ring to it, does it?!?!

DJan said...

Sometimes I find the smell of old books to be pleasant, other times not so much. Any books that gets a little musty makes me sneeze! :-)

P.S. Nice to see a picture of Jack.

biebkriebels said...

A very nice post. Ah, the smell of a new book I can't resist it. When I started working in the Public Library I felt like working in paradise. All those books around me and I could look in them all! I can't imagine a life without books.

Caramella said...

Lovely post! Books are truly precious..and you have quite a collection! I suppose Jack is a book worm (I mean book dog!) as well :)

Francesca Edesia said...

I love books too! When I was working I was always spending money on new books, while my girlfriends would buy jewellery and clothes. Saucy, that dog of yours is a charmer, he is so cute! Does he smell by the way? My Rocky needs a good bath but it's too cold here still so I'm waiting till it gets warmer. Have a nice weekend!

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

Lilly, I KNOW I should get rid of a lot of my books..but I hang on for one reason or another. Some belonged to Patrick...some to other loved ones..some I keep thinking I will read one day..some I read over and over again, and I know full well if I get rid of any of them I will one day want it and go a bit nuts searching for it..HOPING I didn't get rid of it.
:) Ya know?
Hugs to you my dear friend!

Cheryl said...

I have a small low to the ground book case filled with childrens books for my two grand kids. Since it is way at the other side of the playroom I often times tell my grand kids, "If you have to fart... go do it by the books." lol..... don't be so eager to sniff old books lol

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

Your library is so nicely organized! Mine is a mess..a HUGE mess!

Genie Robinson said...

I knew old books smelled, but never thought there was a reason other than being old and you have given me food for thought. Glad Jack popped into the picture. genie