The Holford collection of Defoe materials is housed in the third floor hallway. The bindings for this large matched set are made of Russia leather. Russia leather has a distinctive aroma, which comes in large part from the birch-bark oil used in its production. It smells of wintergreen and the effect of whole cabinet of books is quite pronounced when the glass doors are opened.
Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories & tragedies. Third impression. London: Printed for P. C. [Philip Chetwynd], 1664.Rosenbach Museum & Library. EL1 .S527 664
Another smelly item is our Shakespeare Third Folio, which you may have seen recently in the Burn This exhibition. Our copy smells strongly of smoke and, to paraphrase Elizabeth Fuller, it is tempting to imagine that that the scent is a souvenir of the Great Fire of London in 1666. The Great Fire burned London's bookselling district and is believed to have destroyed many unsold copies of the Third Folio. Unfortunately, as Elizabeth has pointed out, any possible Great Fire scent would have been washed out when the book was rebound in the 19th century and the present odor was probably acquired in peaceful repose in a library with a smoky fireplace.
|Toilet bottle from Philip Rosenbach's grooming set. England, Charles Fox. Rosenbach Museum & Library 2002.0337.006|
It's not just our books that have evocative odors of the past. Several bottles from Philip's grooming set retain strong scents from their original contents.The tightly screwed caps may have assisted in the olfactory preservation.
Sadly, none of our objects smell of fresh-baked bread or chocolate-chip cookies, but hopefully this brief tour has given you a "scents" of their history.