The Aroma of Old Books

While many people rely on their Kindle for reading books these days, some book lovers actually prefer real paper copies to digital editions. One reason could be that they’re addicted to the smell of books. Indeed, the nostalgic aroma of an old book can be quite comforting.

If you’ve ever stepped into a used bookstore or spent any time with books from the seventies or earlier, you’ve probably encountered that distinctive smell. Leathery and a bit musty is what you might expect – but it’s kind of sweet, too, like a combination of pipe tobacco, grass, and vanilla. Apparently, love for the old book smell is so universal that you can actually buy the fragrance!

Scented Soy Candle – Old Books Fragrance – The Old Books soy candle has just the right combination of oils to give you that old book smell, with a bit of a leathery essence and some aged paper, which is what you might expect from an old book. You can also try the Old Books Scented Soy Wax Melts.

Read Candle by R. Nichols – Made from a premium paraffin and soy, this candle offers a mellow, comforting fragrance of aged paper, ink and leather. The glass candle jar allows the glow of the flame to highlight the clever graphic design.

Paper Library Candle – This candle evokes the atmosphere of the dream library through the enigmatic smell of paper, scents of cedar and sandalwood, with clove and vanilla base notes.

Have you ever wondered why books smell the way they do? As it turns out, there’s a scientific explanation. Andy Brunning, a British chemistry teacher, runs a blog where he posts infographics on the science behind everyday chemistry. He released one explaining that the differing aromas of antique and new books has to do with the organic compounds created by the breakdown of cellulose and lignin within the pages, which causes that “weirdly intoxicating scent that haunts libraries and second-hand book stores.” Check out Brunning’s infographic:


Below is a video produced by Abe’s Books, drawing on research from chemists at University College, London, which looks at the science behind the used book odor that happens when chemicals and organic matter react with heat, light, moisture and time.

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