virtualDavis

ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.
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Old Books Smell like Vanilla

According to this video from Abe Books, “Chemists at University College, London have investigated the old book odor and concluded that old books release hundreds of volatile organic compounds into the air from the paper. The lead scientist described the smell as ‘A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.'” (Source: Huffington Post)

Secondhand bookstore fans are especially attuned to the olfactory wiles of dusty old tomes. Even as many of us shift our reading habits from printed books to digital books, we still wax nostalgic and romantic about the aesthetic pleasures of old book odor. But do old books smell like vanilla?

Stick your nose deep into an old book and inhale deeply… As it turns out, dozens of different chemicals that are emitted by paper, binding, ink, and glue… break down over time… One prominent compound results from the breakdown of lignin, a polymer found in plant cell walls, as well as paper. As it degrades, it’s converted into vanillin, a chemical naturally present in vanilla beans, accounting for the hints of vanilla. (Source: Vox)

I’m keen on old books and I’m keen on vanilla, but I’m not certain that old books smell like vanilla. According to Matija Strlic (the scientist who lead the 2009 study that has fueled recent aromatic rumination on old books), the grassy, tangy, and slightly vanilla smell of old aging books “is as much a part of the book as its contents.” I better keep sniffing…

Hat top to Todd Goff who brought the Vox article to my attention last summer. Yes, I’ve been dawdling and field testing ever since. Conclusions still pending!

Marginalia: Book Traces

Marginalia: Book Traces

Marginalia: Book Traces

I return to the woeful fate of marginalia in the digital age. It’s worth noting that the image above first startled me as a spider tacked into a tawny tome. But this blessing of mistaken identity introduced me to Book Traces, and I am the richer (and more distracted) for it.

Book Traces is a crowd-sourced web project aimed at identifying unique copies of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century books on library shelves.  Our focus is on customizations made by original owners in personal copies, primarily in the form of marginalia and inserts.

Sponsored by NINES at the University of Virginia and led by Andrew Stauffer, Book Traces is meant to engage the question of the future of the print record in the wake of wide-scale digitization… (Source: Book Traces)

As for that musty, magical photograph above?

Title: The Changed Cross and other Religious Poems
Author: Anonymous
Publication date: New York, 1872
Library: Richter, U Miami
Call number: PR 1191 .R24
Submitted by: Andrew Stauffer
Description: Memorial volume for Annie R. Deering, wife of Charles W. Deering and daughter of Rear Admiral A. Ludlow Case. Annie died just a few days short of their first wedding anniversary. Charles was 23 at the time, and Annie probably about the same age. Printed death notice attached. Gift inscription from Charles to Mary E. Deering, dated a few days after Annie’s death (on their wedding anniversary), November 3, 1876. Flower pinned to dedication page, with small slip dated Dec. 20, 1877. (Source: Book Traces)

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