The smell of old books is instantly recognizable but hard to describe. Thanks to mass spectrometry and good old fashioned smell tests, University College London researchers have created a Historic Book Odour Wheel.
Via researchers Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič:
With the main categories in the inner circle and the descriptors in the outer circle, the aroma wheel also features the likely chemical compound causing the smell. In this case, the data has been matched using the information provided by the descriptions from the museum’s public, the categories from the urban aroma wheel and the data from the GC–MS analysis of the historic book, referenced by established odour description databases (Table 1).
Odour wheels are dynamic tools: they evolve when new information is gained about the causes of a particular smell . While they tend to be used in sensory panels, there is evidence that trained and untrained assessors identify similar global differences in aroma perception . Therefore, some odour wheels, such as the original wheel for wine tasting designed by Noble in the 1980s, are intended for use of both professional and lay assessors . This historic book odour wheel is intended to be a inter-disciplinary collaboration tool, used by untrained noses to ‘translate’ curatorial or conservational concerns about materials degradation into an understanding of the underlying chemical compounds causing it, and informing conservation decisions. The chemical aspects of paper aroma have been researched to a considerable extent in the past decade. It has been shown that some VOCs can be linked specifically to degradation of cellulose (e.g. furfural) and others specifically to degradation of lignin (e.g. benzaldehyde and vanillin), and that the VOC profile of a certain type of historic paper can be linked to its composition as well as to its state of degradation . While a thorough discussion of the associated degradation chemistry and material characterization is outside the scope of the work discussed here, it is worth pointing out that the perceived smell of a historic book could be of importance in artefact conservation, and has been observed to be used by professionals in paper conservation practice.
Wonder how it conmpares to the new money perfume?
• Smell of heritage: a framework for the identification, analysis and archival of historic odours (via Science Daily)
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