Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2016 Issue

Perfumes for People Who Want to Smell Like Their Old Books

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Paper Passion – perfume in a book.

The smell of old books is intoxicating to those who love antiquarian tomes. The collector does not need sight to sniff out a classic library. Love is blind. It is one of those fragrances that is not so much beautiful in its own right. It's the association. It is the antiquarian equivalent of new car smell. People can buy new car spray to spray in their old cars. Once again, the old car is new and fresh, ready to head out on the road, instead of the shop. Were it not for the association, car owners might think it smelled like glue, vinyl, plastic, and the lubricants from which it emanates. With the new car association, it becomes perfume.

 

The same can be said about old book smell. It is a perfume in an old library. But... a perfume, literally? Welcome to the new world of fragrances. People may be replacing their libraries with odorless, plastic electronic readers, but they miss the smell of old, paper books. Now, you can bring that fragrance back, not just as a spray for your library, but carry it around with you all day as a perfume applied to your own body. You can smell like an old book. Science is wonderful.

 

A logical place to look for perfume that smells like old books is the I Hate Perfume line, described as "perfume for people who want to smell something different." Here is one: In The Library. It is described as, "a warm blend of English Novel, Russian & Moroccan Leather Bindings, Worn Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish." No flowery scents here! The designer explains, "To many, of course, these various bookish odors mean nothing. But to an avid reader and collector like myself, these smells are as magical as the bouquet of a great wine is to a connoisseur."

 

Sweet Tea Apothecary, makers of "historically inspired perfumes," is noted for its Dead Writers Perfume. A unisex fragrance, it is said that it "evokes the feeling of sitting in an old library chair paging through yellowed copies of Hemingway, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Poe, and more." It contains, "black tea, vetiver, clove, musk, vanilla, heliotrope, and tobacco."

 

Beatrix (Potter) is made by the same perfumery. What would her scent be? Hopefully, not the smell of rabbits. Again, we must turn to the designers, as I would not know how to describe the smell of a perfume - "Beatrix has notes of moss, blue spruce, dragon's blood, fire, earth, and chamomile. It has a wonderful green scent with the light floral of the chamomile headnote." Chamomile tea was what Mrs. Rabbit gave Peter at bedtime when he did not feel well, so it is not surprising she would have carried the scent. I don't know whether that was also true of Mrs. Potter, or whether she was an earthy or mossy woman, but who is to say she was not?

 

Here is one more from Sweet Tea Apothecary – Death in the Afternoon. That's no bull; it truly is the name. The maker notes, "No one exemplified salty machismo quite like... Ernest Hemingway." This scent has "notes of tobacco pipe, vegan Egyptian musk, champagne, bay leaf, sandalwood, fennel, and bergamot. This unisex scent is reminiscent of a strong glass of absinthe and leather-bound books." One suspects the machismo Hemingway might not have liked anything unisex named after him, but perhaps he would have been more gender neutral had he lived in the 21st century. Or maybe not.

 

Commodity provides a perfume with the very basic name, Book. According to their description, "With its many unexpected twists and pleasantries, Book is an exciting mixture of Spicy Cucumber and Torchwood that tips its hat to the fellow Hemingways and Fitzgeralds of the world." There's Hemingway again, this time associated with spicy cucumbers. Did he consume spicy cucumbers? There is a drink called the spicy cucumber margarita, so my guess is if he did, this was his vehicle.

 

Demeter has provided us with a cologne called Paperback. According to them, this is like "a trip to your favorite library or used bookstore. Sweet and lovely with just a touch of the musty smell of aged paper." Who wouldn't want to small like musty old paper? And, what exudes excitement in the opposite (or same) sex better than being associated with an old library? Shhh. Don't answer too loudly.

 

For the younger folks, perhaps something not so old and musty is in order. Gerhard Steidl has partnered with Wallpaper magazine to create such a fragrance, Paper Passion Perfume. This "perfume expresses that peculiar mix of paper and ink which gives a book its unmistakable aroma, along with the fresh scent which a book opened for the first time releases." This one comes in a book, partly hollowed out to hold the bottle of perfume inside. Text is provided by Gunter Grass, Karl Lagerfeld, and Geza Schoen. You won't know whether you are smelling the perfume or the "fresh scent of a book opened for the first time" when you open its pages.

 

So, why do old books have their distinctive smell? There has actually been a scientific study conducted to answer this question. Published in the August 2009 issue of Analytical Chemistry, the title of the report is Material Degradomics: On the Smell of Old Books. The authors are Matija Strlic, Jacob Thomas, Tanja Trafela, Linda Cséfalvayova´, Irena Kralj Cigic´, Jana Kolar, and May Cassar. That's enough brain power to suggest someone thought this topic worthy of serious research.

 

Their purpose, however, was not to determine what ingredients to use to make old book smell perfume. As they note, "heritage institutions (libraries, archives, and museums) are interested in quantitative VOC [volatile organic compound] analysis as a rapid diagnostic tool for the degradation and condition of their collections as well as evaluation of conservation treatments and materials analysis." In other words, a scientific "smell test" can help collectors determine how better to preserve the various books in their collection. Different papers emit different combinations of gasses, which in turn can alert conservators as to how best to treat them.

 

For a less scientific view, the authors describe the old book smell as, "a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much part of the book as its contents." While they note this is caused by "several hundred identiied volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds," that "hint of vanilla" comes from lignin, a compound similar to vanilla, while the mustiness comes from some combination of the hundreds of others.

 

On a more serious note, the authors explain the more rapid degradation seen in paper produced roughly after 1850 compared to earlier papers. At that time, rosin replaced gelatin as a compound to enable ink to attach to the paper fibers. Aluminum sulfate was added to precipitate the rosin on the fibers. While rosin contains some acids, the authors attribute the deterioration in newer paper to the tendency of the aluminum sulfate to make the paper acidic, it forming a weak solution of sulfuric acid.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600

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