The scent of old books

The scent of old books

Jun 21, 2016

We’ve been writing about the efforts of parfumiers to make book-smell scents for many years, but the reality has been pretty disappointing.

Finally, the book-smell industry is moving on and up. The market for products that smell like books is ramping up, with dozens of new products, from Demeter Paperback Cologne (“used bookstore”: paper, violets and potpourri) to Byredo M/Mink (smells like ink); to Kilian Water Calligraphy (“blended to reflect a scent of Chinese ink sliding over rice paper”) to Tokyo Milk Parfumarie Curiosite 17 Paper & Cotton (“coriander, white sage, birch wood, and tundra moss”); and Paper Passion (“the unique bouquet of freshly printed books”).

The appeal of old books’ smell has been studied in depth. Wood-based paper contains lignin, a chemical closely related to vanillin, the compound that gives vanilla its fragrance. As the pages age and the compounds break down, they release that signature scent. An experienced rare book handler can date a volume by scent alone, according to the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

Furthermore, scent is strongly tied to memory. Just as the scent of sunscreen or fresh-cut grass can suddenly evoke memories of childhood summers, for the bookish among us the scent of old manuscripts recalls pleasures like reading an old classic, or scouring a library or used bookstore.

By Cory Doctorow for www.boingboing.net