Old Books Stink!

Many of my clients talk about the smell of old books as being one of the aspects that attracts them to collecting. 

In the 18th Century, M. Dudin in The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder ends his treatise by recommending that the completed binding be perfumed.  “Very few people seek this refinement for their books but there is nothing simpler than perfuming a book.” (86) He explains two methods, one by sponging the pages with perfume, the other leaving the book in a cupboard for a long period of time with an open bottle.  Keep those noses going, fellow conservators, I would love to find an example of this.  

Now Christopher Brosius, and his store CB I Hate Perfume, has bottled the smell.  The scent is named “In The Library”, and here is part of his description.

“I love books, particularly old ones. I cannot pass a second hand bookshop and rarely come away without at least one additional volume. I now have quite a collection!  Whenever I read, the start of the journey is always opening the book and breathing deeply. Don’t you find there are few things more wonderful than the smell of a much-loved book? Newly printed books certainly smell very different from older ones. The ink is so crisp. I’ve also noticed that books from different periods & different countries also have very different smells. And then there are the scents of different bindings: leather is marvelous of course but I find a peculiar pleasure in musty worn clothbound books as well. Perhaps just a hint of mildew!  The main note in this scent was copied from one of my favorite books – I happened to find a signed first edition of this novel a few years ago in London. I was more than a little excited because there were only ever a hundred in the first place.” (From the CB I Hate Perfume Website)

I purchased a tiny, 2ml vial of this scent for about $12.  

I’m not much of a perfume guy– it didn’t smell bad, but it didn’t smell like an old book either.

3 thoughts on “Old Books Stink!

  1. Jeff Peachey Post author

    Hi Peter-
    I usually clean them first with a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner, using micro-attachments to get in the spine if it is a case binding. Variable speed is nice so you don’t suck away fragile binding parts. It you smell mold, make sure to protect yourself- respirator, gloves, etc. Then I seal the books with activated charcoal (or some use Kitty Litter) and some silica gel to keep the RH low in a large plastic tub. After a month or so I remove them, and put them in front of a fan for a week or so. If they still smell repeat. And repeat again if necessary. Good luck.

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