I Love the Smell of Old Books in the Morning

I am an avid book reader.  There a very few things that I love more than cracking open anew book for the first time.  Because of this, I spend a lot of time at used bookstores looking at older books.  I love spending time in the older book sections because of the smell that the old books emit.  Old books have a distinct, and to me, a rather pleasant aroma.

Old books.

What causes this old book smell?  As it turns out, a group of scientists from University College, London have actually looked into this.  As books decay, they release volatile organic compounds (also known as VOCs) into the air.  These VOCs are created as a combination from the decay of the books due to a mixture of factors such as sunlight, moisture, and heat that cause the organic compound sin the books to decay.  These organic compounds make up the pages, ink, and adhesives that once they decay, release VOCs.  These VOCs have a distinct odor that according to these scientists, makes old books smell like "A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness."  

The part that I find the most interesting about all of this is the hint of vanilla.  According to an article from The Naked Scientists, the compounds Vanillin, Anisol, and Benezaldehyde produce the Vanilla / almond smell.  In addition, Terpene compounds make the books smell wood, and Aliphatic alcohols add to the mushroom smells that some old books produce.

The chemical Vanillin.

While delving into the science beyond the old book smell takes away some of the magic behind it, it doesn't take away the memories associate with these smells.  In my opinion, the smell itself is okay, and it only smells good and is attractive to people, because of its association with books and the love of books that people have. If the smell itself was so attractive, it would be a best-selling perfume or cologne by now.  So here's my final question to you:

Is old book smell attractive to people because of the smell itself ( the chemicals Vanillin, etc.), or because of the association of the smell with books and people feelings towards books?


I have also noticed the smell of old books because i too, am a big reader. In your research of this blog did you find out a time frame on when the aroma's are released? Or is there different aroma's for different types of paper/bindings used to make the books? I would be interested in knowing this.

I think my attraction to the smell of old books is definitely because of the smell itself. I used to be a bookworm to the extreme, but over the years I've begun to read less and less. The smell of old books though, has always been an attraction for me. I never really thought about how they came to smell the way they do though, so this article showed me a lot. I found a link to a cute picture explaining how the vanillin creates a hunger in us all to read.


I think the attraction to the smell of old books is rooted in our love of books. The more someone enjoys reading, the more appealing the smell would be. I not only love to read, but I love books themselves. I have several different copies of my favorite books and am always looking for new ones to add to my collection. I think because I appreciate the books themselves, I appreciate the smell of them. My brother on the other hand, who's an engineer and not so much of a bookworm, would probably not be as attracted to the smell of old books because of a lack of connection to them.

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