Ancient Word of the Day: Vellichor

Ancient Word of the Day: Vellichor

Noun: Vellichor from the Latin Vell (paper) and ichor (essence).

An ethereal perfume that is extruded from the earth and infuses old book stores with mystery, wistfulness and nostalgia.

Books are worlds unto themselves that reveal tiny and huge universes all co-existing side-by-side. The aroma of books is the smell of the passage of time.

Old books smell of dust and the literary smoke of history, of writer-soul and the ink of eternity. ~Terri Guillemets, “Treasures in dark corners,” 2004

Maria Laach Benedictine Abbey in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Open since 1156 AD.
Maria Laach Benedictine Abbey in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Abbey open since 1156 AD.

He found himself in a room not unlike the shop. All books again, packed tight on shelves or laying in piles on every surface. It was a cozy room, for all that; it smelled of warm, rich words and very deep thoughts. ~Jenny Nimmo, Midnight for Charlie Bone, 2002

Trinity College Library in Dublin has over 7,000,000 volumes of manuscripts and opened in 1592 AD.
Trinity College Library in Dublin has over 7,000,000 volumes of manuscripts and opened in 1592 AD.

The aroma of an old book is familiar to every user of a traditional library. 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 a part of the book as its contents.

~Matija Strlič. Chemist at University College London. “The smell of old books analysed by scientists,The Telegraph, 2009

Due to the different materials used to make books throughout history, there is no one characteristic odour of old books. Professional perfumers has evaluated seventy aromas emanating from books. They chaacterise the smells are being dusty, musty, mouldy, paper-like or dry.

The pleasant aromatics from the paper come from ground wood from different parts of the world and different eras. Pleasing notes such as sweetly fragrant vanillin, aromatic anisol and benzaldehyde fruity almond-like odours are often experienced. On the other hand, terpene compounds, deriving from rosin, which is used to make paper more impermeable to inks, contribute to the camphorous, oily and woody smell of books. A mushroom odour is caused by some other, intensely fragrant aliphatic alcohols.

~ Jana, Head of Laboratory for Cultural Heritage at the University Library of Slovenia. The Naked Scientists

Ancient Word of the Day: Vellichor

There are two perfumes to a book: a book is new, it smells great; a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. So a book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry.

~Ray Bradbury, 2010
There are two perfumes to a book: a book is new, it smells great; a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. ~ Ray Bradbury
There are two perfumes to a book: a book is new, it smells great; a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. ~ Ray Bradbury

Although Vellichor sounds old, this word was invented relatively recently by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.

I hope you revel in some old book smells in the not too distant future…

10 thoughts on “Ancient Word of the Day: Vellichor

  1. Yeah exactly hehehe. I love the smell of Twitter in the morning said nobody ever hehe

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