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Why Old Books Smell So Good?

Updated: Apr 22

“Age appears to be best in four things—old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.”


Ever wondered why libraries smell so good? It's the old books.

New books smell good too but nothing in comparison to the oldies'.

The smell of old books is usually earthy and musty and a little bit sweet. It is because of the paper, glue and ink. These three elements combine and breakdown into chemicals like vanillin releasing an aromatic fragrance of vanilla. Some other fragrances that might appear are fruity, woody and even grassy.

Paper is an organic material, and with age the components are broken down by acid hydrolysis, giving off volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, which may have hints of vanilla (vanillin), almond (benzaldehyde) or musky florals (ethyls, tolulene, and hexanol).

Every book has a unique paper and ink, making most books smell similar to each other but some special paper and ink combinations release an even special fragrance. A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.

The smell of nostalgia (if there could be a smell assigned to that) is what I would like to denote the smell of an old book to.


Smells are crucial to attaching meaning to experiences, people and spaces. Stay Scented.

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