Where Do You Fall on the Odor Wheel?

Where Do You Fall on the Odor Wheel?

Edith Zimmerman
Apr 14, 2017
(Image credit: Heritage Science)

Forget the Wheel of Life (and our home-oriented Life Balance Wheel) — or, don't forget them, but after you maximize those wheels' utility, there's a new wheel in town: the Historic Paper Odor Wheel, developed by a team out of the University of London to more precisely describe and categorize the smell of old books.


The Historic Paper Odor Wheel is part of a paper for the journal Heritage Science, called "Smell of heritage: a framework for the identification, analysis and archival of historic odours," which was published earlier this April.

Here's an abridged version of the paper's abstract:

We don't know much about the smells of the past. Yet, odours play an important role in our daily lives: they affect us emotionally, psychologically and physically, and influence the way we engage with history. Can this lead us to consider certain smells as cultural heritage? And if so, what would be the processes for the identification, protection and conservation of those heritage smells? [...] The smell of historic paper was chosen as the case study, based on its well-recognized cultural significance and available research. Odour characterization was achieved by collecting visitor descriptions of a historic book extract through a survey, and by conducting a sensory evaluation at a historic library. These were combined with the chemical information on the VOCs sampled from both a historic book and a historic library, to create the Historic Book Odour Wheel, a novel documentation tool representing the first step towards documenting and archiving historic smells.

Smithsonian has a good rundown on the wheel, and on the paper's findings (complete with a description of the "panel of library smellers" that the University of London team enlisted), but I'm also enjoying trying to place myself and my own home on the wheel's slices. I aim for grassy/woodsy or floral/vegetal but probably land more on earthy/musty/moldy — but in a "farm-like" way.

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