We all know that smell — the heavenly smell of books, especially the old ones. Well, science has finally explained why old books smell so incredibly amazing.
Cambridge chemistry teacher, Andy Brunning of Compound Interest, has figured out the reason why and so graciously shared it with the world. There has been more research done on the scent of old books than new ones because it is a way to check the condition of an old book.
What the science boils down to is the breakdown of the chemical compounds of the paper. According to Compound Interest, old paper contains larger amounts of the chemicals cellulose and lignin, both of which contribute heavily to that unique old book smell. [Click here to enlarge]
You may have noticed distinctly different types of scents in old books, and this is all due to the breakdown of certain elements on the pages. Pages containing the vanillin compound give off a (you guessed it) vanilla scent, 2-ethyl hexanol gives off a slightly floral aroma and benzaldehyde and furfural give off an almond-like smell.
Each book has pages that are made up of a different chemical composition, but that well-known, comforting old book smell that we all love ultimately comes from the degradation of the chemicals that were used during manufacturing.