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Thread: Old book smell

  1. #1
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    Default Old book smell

    I found this article on facebook today.
    http://mentalfloss.com/article/31235...old-book-smell

    “A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness” is how an international team of chemists describes the unique odor of old books in a study. Poetic, sure, but what causes it?

    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.

    The researchers tested 72 books and found some 15 compounds that came up again and again. They were reliable markers for degradation. These include acetic acid, benzaldehyde, butanol, furfural, octanal, methoxyphenyloxime, and other chemicals with funny-sounding names. 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 cigarette smoke, others smell a little like coffee, and still others, cat dander).

    You can’t judge books by their covers, but the researchers think you can learn a lot from their odor. They're developing a method for determining the condition and age of books and other paper documents by using special “sniffing” equipment to analyze the blend of VOCs. They hope that this study of "degradomics" can help libraries, museums, and archives assess and monitor the health of their collections and store and care for them accordingly.
    Justin E. Beasley

  2. #2

    Default Re: Old book smell

    "degradomics" - later they can apply that to people

    These seem like hard-to-get chemicals..

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Old book smell

    Quote Originally Posted by Nizan View Post
    "degradomics" - later they can apply that to people

    These seem like hard-to-get chemicals..
    I've just started looking them up and it does seem as though they would be very difficult to get but if their odor profiles are available one might be able to simulate it with readily available aroma chems. I've noticed furfural pop up quite a bit lately, it seems to be in a lot of things...
    Justin E. Beasley

  4. #4

    Default Re: Old book smell

    They're not difficult to get, aside from furfural and methoxyphenyloxime, you just have to look at lab chemical suppliers rather than perfume suppliers. Coincidentally, I've just gotten a couple of them in for home experimentation. Try eBay as a start.

    Furfural and similar compounds are probably what give old books their vanilla scent, so vanillin, ethylvanillin, and vanilla absolute would be good places to start to replace it. Vanillin's also one of the compounds from the breakdown of lignin, and that's going to be present in almost all old books. In solution, the acetic acid's going to wind up reacting with your perfume ingredients, so you're probably going to get a lot of ethyl acetate and small amounts of other acetates from any non-ethanol alcohols if you add that. It's not necessarily a bad thing but should be kept in mind.

    I don't know what the oxime smells like. The only two I've ever smelled had a rather distinctive metallic sort of scent to them, similar to octenone only sharper. Others may be very different.

    Looking at that list, butanol's probably a rather minor contributor to the overall scent, it has a sort of understated sweetness to it. Octanal I've never smelled but that can easily be had from Perfumer's Apprentice or one of the other hobbyist places. One very big problem with relying on just this list of chemicals is they're all really top notes. Whatever you wind up with is going to need something else underneath it.

    As the article mentions, a lot of a book's smell is shaped by the environment, so that allows for a lot of creative variation on top of things. Mustiness, dry cedar, incense, maybe even something "clean" for the feel of an archive room...

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Old book smell

    Quote Originally Posted by JayH View Post
    They're not difficult to get, aside from furfural and methoxyphenyloxime, you just have to look at lab chemical suppliers rather than perfume suppliers. Coincidentally, I've just gotten a couple of them in for home experimentation. Try eBay as a start.

    Furfural and similar compounds are probably what give old books their vanilla scent, so vanillin, ethylvanillin, and vanilla absolute would be good places to start to replace it. Vanillin's also one of the compounds from the breakdown of lignin, and that's going to be present in almost all old books. In solution, the acetic acid's going to wind up reacting with your perfume ingredients, so you're probably going to get a lot of ethyl acetate and small amounts of other acetates from any non-ethanol alcohols if you add that. It's not necessarily a bad thing but should be kept in mind.

    I don't know what the oxime smells like. The only two I've ever smelled had a rather distinctive metallic sort of scent to them, similar to octenone only sharper. Others may be very different.

    Looking at that list, butanol's probably a rather minor contributor to the overall scent, it has a sort of understated sweetness to it. Octanal I've never smelled but that can easily be had from Perfumer's Apprentice or one of the other hobbyist places. One very big problem with relying on just this list of chemicals is they're all really top notes. Whatever you wind up with is going to need something else underneath it.

    As the article mentions, a lot of a book's smell is shaped by the environment, so that allows for a lot of creative variation on top of things. Mustiness, dry cedar, incense, maybe even something "clean" for the feel of an archive room...
    Thanks JayH, good info.
    If most of those are top notes then it does seem as though a light woody, earthy, vanillin and clean base might work well. Sometimes I smell a bit of must and mold in old books, it probably depends on how they are kept but maybe even a bit of patchouli in dilution for that earthiness. Some old books have leather covers so it would be interesting to work a soft leather angle into it too.
    Justin E. Beasley

  6. #6

    Default Re: Old book smell

    I've always thought that Dimethyl Anthranilate smells like old books.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Old book smell

    According to Goodscents, sclareolide, ambroxan and ambroxide have notes of paper.

    http://www.thegoodscentscompany.com/odor/paper.html

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