Why do old books smell?

I picked up some beautiful old books this summer at a used book store in Zurich. They have a whiff of old book about them. I bought them because they have beautiful spines and they’re small (and therefore easy to carry around.) And honestly, I thought they were well priced. I just couldn’t pass up a 1834 copy of Paradise Lost, printed in Paris, in pretty good condition for 7 CHF. We spent 7CHF on a bad cappuccino at a cafe around the corner.  I’ll take a book any day.

My favorite is an 1881 copy of Montesqueieu’s Grandeur Et Decadence Des Romains. It’s in beautiful condition with a spine that makes me smile every time I look at it. It looks like one of those books that sat on somebody’s shelf because it was pretty but was never read. Its fate hasn’t changed.

I found this short video featuring Richard from Abebooks on the I See Dead Books website (love the name, love the site.) Richard does a nice job clearly explaining the answer to the question – why do old books smell?



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