Dear 100 Hour Board,
Books printed in the 1960s smell good, like really good. Why is that?
Do you want to know about SCIENCE??
Books are primarily made of paper, which is made of wood. Two of the main molecules in the cell walls of plants are cellulose and lignin. Here are some fun diagrams of the molecules.
You'll see that they're both long chains of mostly circular molecules. Circular molecules are aromatic, and they're called aromatic because most of the first aromatic molecules smelled good. That's not a general rule for aromatic compounds, but lucky for us a lot of the by-products of the breakdown of cellulose and lignin smell nice. Here are some of the by-products of the breakdown of cellulose and lignin:
Toluene has a strong aromatic odor that most people find pleasant. It smells vaguely like gasoline.
You'll recognize this one as the functional molecule in vanilla. This is why old books smell kind of like vanilla.
- 2-ethyl hexanol
2-ethyl hexanol is a compound that is found in a lot of natural plant fragrances, specifically fruits, like plums.
- Ethyl Benzene
Ethyl benzene smells like gasoline as well, and has a sweet odor. It's used in tars and ink.
Benzaldehyde is used in imitation almond extract, and has a sweet almond-like odor.
Furfural also is a sweet, almond-smelling compound, and can also be used to calculate how old a book is!
So that's the chemical reason that old books have that slightly fruity, nutty vanilla smell! The older they are, the more they've got that smell. Books from the 1960's have been breaking down for like 60 years!
Keep it real,
Because everything in the 1960s was really good.
(Okay maybe ignore the Vietnam War part.)
But the Beatles? Humans on the moon? I Have a Dream?
This is the stuff of legends, my friend. It's no wonder their books smell just as good.
-guppy of doom