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? (“What”)
A chemists or vintner’s detailed description of old books doesn’t come near that unique scent we experience when entered an old rare bookstore. Perhaps it is the contrast from smells of the street side as you open the squeaky door? Perhaps it’s that occasional door bell clanger ringing when you walk inside that wakes up your sense and your olfactory tuning? In any case, the causation is irrelevant. It is the experience we identify with. If you love books, or more specifically love the stories that reach out from the pages, then that rare old brief fragrance triggers memories of narratives and characters. Our brain amazingly builds memory by linkages with experiences and smells. Each triggering the other.
1988 M. Atwood Cat’s Eye (1989) viii. 198 The church..smelled of old stone, old neglect, mustiness.(OED. )
b. An aromatic essence or oil.
1830 S. T. Coleridge Lect. Shakespeare II. 203 Its [a plant’s] balsams, gums, resins, aromata..are..mere excretions from the vegetable.
3. fig. A subtle pervasive quality or charm.
1851 T. Carlyle Life J. Sterling i. ii. 18 The delicate aroma of his nature.
1861 Trollope Tales of all Countries viii. 281 The language of the people has not the pure Parisian aroma. (OED, 3a. )
BIBLICHOR: (N.) THE CHARACTERISTIC, FAINT, MUSTY SMELL OF OLD BLOKS THAT FILLS YOUR NOSTRILS WHEN YOU ENTER AN OLD LIBRARY OR AN OLD BOOKSTARE; the smell that drifts peacefully from the post-war bakery or the smell of warming magic from the village chocolatier ; the smell of a fantasy world, of queens and gallant men, of necromancers, of love and adventure.
Alvimann. Old bookshop. N.d. Stock image, Nd. Morguefile . Web. 13 May 2008.
“Aroma” 3. fig. OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. 24 November 2013 .
“What Causes “Old Book Smell”?.” Mental Floss. N.p., 19 July 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.