"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why do old books smell?

The thing I love most about used bookstores, other than the books and the personal service, is the smell.  Why do used books have a particular scent?  Have you ever wondered?  

The physical book, being of organic material, reacts with light, heat, moisture and the very chemical of which it is composed.  The scent we appreciate, well most of us anyway, originates in the reaction of the organic material to these influences. 

The browning or "foxing" (localized brown spots) on the pages of an old book are part of the deterioration process that occurs over time. Acidity of the paper is the biggest reason for a book to decay.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, paper used in printing is very acidic, thus accelerating the deterioration process, thus the smell.  Books printed centuries ago have been known to have survived 500 years because the paper was more pure than what is used today.

For the greatest longevity of your books, store them in a cool and dry environment, out of direct sunlight.  

[Learn more about book care at the AbeBooks' Book Collecting Guide:http://bit.ly/ujYGTh]


  1. This is exactly why I never get why people love the smell of old books, especially they yellowed ones (which are the ones with high acidity). Acid and decay...I'll pass. I skip the 1950s-1970s era because of this, older than that the smell isn't as acidic.

  2. According to Stephen Fry on QI, you can get high from smelling old books. Something about the fungi (too lazy to google it right now, but it was quite interesting - pun intended).


Hey there! Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate all my visitors and your comments so please introduce yourself, ask or make suggestions. I'd love to hear from you. This blog is a no-award zone. I appreciate the acknowledgment but your kind words are enough.

No spam please!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...