Getting a Whiff of History – Do You Like the Smell of Old Books?

Most long-time genealogists know the smell of old books. Now a new study in the journal Heritage Science, claims that the odors of the past are part of our “cultural heritage.”

Old books (specifically the historic paper and other materials used) give off unique moldy or sweetly musty scents that readers and history buffs know intimately and find pleasurable.

Reading a digital image of an old book on Google Books just isn’t the same!

Bembibre and Strlič, both researchers at the University College London’s (UCL) Institute for Sustainable Heritage, have been analyzing the chemical signature of many old items, including books. One benefit of the study could be to help preserve old books, which emit different odors based on where they’ve been (whether they circulated widely or sat on a shelf), and when and how they were printed. Understanding a book’s individual smell profile could help conservators more accurately diagnose various deterioration problems.

You can read more in an article by Sidney Stevens in the Mother Nature Network web site at as well as the full research paper in Heritage Science at


Old books also make one sneeze quite a bit! Carl


Being allergic to mold is no fun! but it helps me to identify problem books in my collection.


My wife gets asthma from the strong smell of old books, so digital is just fine in our household.


old books….any books….carry dust and mites. Books are not a good thing to breath in and can be very unhealthy


I can’t get enough of that wonderful smell! The first thing I do when I walk into our State Library is take a big deep smell! Puts a smile on my face every time. I recently took my 7 year old grandson to the library to get him acquainted. I made him do the same thing. :o)

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Our church had a fire. It was mainly in the back of the minister’s platform. However, for many months, when we all opened our hymn books we got a very smokey scent!


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