Science Finally Explains What Old Books Smell Like

Okay, admit it, you’ve sniffed a book before and found it completely satisfying. A lot of us bookworms can’t resist that “old book smell,” and we’re not ashamed. It’s so intriguing and inviting- but we can’t put our finger on what it actually smells like. Moss? Smoke? It’s definitely Earthy, right? Wonder no more, because science has found the answer.

Some research has found that old books smell like vanilla, but according to a group of researchers from the University of London’s Institiute for Sustainable Heritage, old books smell like chocolate and coffee. Yup. We didn’t expect that either! The researchers created a “Historic Book Odour Wheel,” a way for them to archive the different kinds of smells that old books give off as a result of the glue, ink, and pages breaking down.

It acts as a way for historical book preservationists to know whether or not a book is in danger of completely disintegrating or if there’s something in the environment that’s damaging! That’s cool, but it doesn’t explain the chocolate and coffee thing…

At an event hosted at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, researchers gave about 80 visitors an example of “old book smell” and asked what they thought it smelled like. After putting all the responses in a word cloud, “chocolate” appeared 27 times, and “coffee” appeared 10 times. There were several other smells too, so there’s room for variation!

How would you describe the “old book smell?” Let us know!


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