Whether you’re a bookworm or not, you are undoubtedly familiar with the smell of old books. If nothing comes to your mind, just imagine entering a library or a store selling used books, and you will immediately remember this sweet scent of vanilla with barely discernible bitterness of freshly grounded coffee. Some people might find this smell nauseating, but even a more significant number of readers are literally addicted to it. Ever wondered why do old books smell? Here is a scientific answer to this mystery of “smelling books” addiction!

The Science Behind The Smell of Old Books 

The research has shown that organic materials in books (like fiber), after being exposed to light, water, and heat for an extended period of time, release volatile organic compounds (or so-called VOCs). These compounds are responsible for the palette of old book smells, consisting of almonds and vanilla. The most important are toluene that produces sweet aromas, furfural that adds almond and coffee overtones, and vanillin. We are naturally prone to liking sweet aromas, so no wonder we like the smell of old books!

For science enthusiasts: here are two original research articles analyzing the smells of old books!

1. Material Degradomics: On the Smell of Old Books  

2. Identification of volatile organic compounds emitted by a naturally aged book using solid-phase microextraction/gas chromatography/mass spectrometry  

Here is also a rendering of a series of studies on how people recognize old book smells (and why they like them so much)!

Check this video for further details about book smells! 

When we know what the compounds that produce the smell of old books are, we can easily recreate it! That’s why you can easily find scented candles that smell like antique books. 

Why are Old Books Great

Well, the smell of old books is not the only great thing about them! First of all, buying old used books saves you heaps of money. Moreover, by buying used books, you make book publishing and distribution more sustainable while also acting environmentally friendly

Using e-books will deprive you of this wonderful smell, so that’s one more argument towards buying and reading analog books! Here is an in-depth discussion of this acute question — what are the pros and cons of e-books?

If you have decided to buy more old books (for their smell and other benefits), BookScouter helps you find the best vendor with the most affordable prices!