These five facts about the smell of old books will tempt you to stick your nose in a book once again.

The smell of old books

Peace. Holidays. The garden swing under the cherry tree, swaying and squeaking in the wind. The associations that arise when we smell an old book are as unique as we are. There is a close connection between smells and memories not only in our imagination but also in reality. The connection between our sense of smell and our sense of memory is considered scientifically proven.

Of all our five senses, only the sense of smell is wired via a direct pathway to our memory and emotion centre in the brain. This circuit of neurons is why specific smells can suddenly awaken specific feelings, thoughts or ideas in us. Formative moments that are filled with certain scents are stored in our brains as so-called olfactory memories. As soon as we perceive a scent mark from our past, we experience a journey back in time to a certain time, to a certain place.

This effect is described by Marcel Proust in his monumental work In Search of Lost Time in a linguistic series of images and is also better known as the “Proust effect”. The Proust effect is particularly strong with the scent of old books. Many people love to literally stick their nose into a book. That this is more about our own stories than about those under the book cover was also recognised by Marcel Proust–the truth he sought was to be found within himself, not between the pages of a book.

Our team at novum publishing will present you with five facts about the smell of old books. If we awaken in you the desire to put your nose into a book again, please take a look at our online shop.

5 facts about the scent of books

The scent of old books

When the organic compounds of paper, ink and glue break down, fragrances are created. Older paper consists of, among other things, lignin and cellulose, two types of plant components. When the lignin decomposes, vanillin is produced, and we perceive the smell of vanilla aroma. Some people even perceive the smell of coffee and chocolate in a library with old books. No wonder because cocoa and coffee beans contain lignin and cellulose, the substances responsible for the seductive sweet smell.

You want to breathe the scent of old books in a library? In this article we introduce you to the most beautiful libraries in the UK.

Book aromas for age dating

Experienced librarians can estimate the age of a book by nose. In fact, individual scents allow age dating. Books produced after 1850, for example, contain proportionally more furfural. Furfural is produced when cellulose decomposes, giving off a sweet smell reminiscent of almonds. Above that, the books are yellow due to the scent of vanillin, a decomposition product of lignin. Professionals can practically smell the age of a book.

Books from the perfumery

The industry has already discovered the popularity of book bouquets. Paper Passion, a perfume with the scent of books, was launched on the market for the first time ten years ago—the book in the bottle smells of paper and printer’s ink. The packaging, which itself looks like a book, was designed by none other than Karl Lagerfeld. With a foreword by German Nobel laureate Günter Grass, the perfume even holds a touch of world literature.

Book scent and reading pleasure

When we open a book, we feel the anticipation of the reading experience. Because we have the smell of the book in our nose during this feeling, we associate it with something positive. If this process is repeated, the brain is practically conditioned to the smell of the book. From then on, the smell of a book is associated with a feeling of well-being that we can’t get out of our heads. The American author Ray Bradbury was even convinced that the smell of books increases the pleasure of reading. For himself, he found that books smell like cinnamon and vanilla.

The bouquet of new books 

Some people cannot smell new books. Due to the differences in material composition, which vary mainly in ink, glue and paper, they have a different scent than old books. Sometimes, they smell like plastic. But the smell of a book is also determined by environmental influences. A book absorbs the smells of its environment, which is why a book on the shelf of a book café may smell different from the one in a tobacco shop.

What memories do you have when you smell a book? Please share your experiences with us in the comments!

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Your team at novum publishing