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Dealing with a very musty and smelly Roman Coin book...


ewomack
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I figured who better to ask about a musty book than people who collect ancient things? 😁

The book itself is not ancient, or even old. It's Spink's Coinage in the Roman World from 2004. Yet someone must have stored it in an ancient tomb for years. I've handled books from the 18th century that weren't as corrosive to the nose and throat.

When it arrived from the dealer, a smell like I've never experienced before emanated from the box. I could barely even look through the book, as the flapping pages would waft the odor right back into my face.

I put it in a container with some baking soda and checked it over the course of a week. The odor subsided, but didn't vanish. So, deciding to resort to desperate measures, I then buried the book in baking soda, sealed it in the container, and will see what happens (below).

image.png.13447e53a68534a478e9d79f071bfc6c.png

I really want to read the book, of course, and perhaps I should have returned it, but I didn't think the odor would prove so invincible.

How do others deal with musty and smelly books? Am I traipsing down a fool's path?

 

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4 minutes ago, ewomack said:

I figured who better to ask about a musty book than people who collect ancient things? 😁

The book itself is not ancient, or even old. It's Spink's Coinage in the Roman World from 2004. Yet someone must have stored it in an ancient tomb for years. I've handled books from the 18th century that weren't as corrosive to the nose and throat.

When it arrived from the dealer, a smell like I've never experienced before emanated from the box. I could barely even look through the book, as the flapping pages would waft the odor right back into my face.

I put it in a container with some baking soda and checked it over the course of a week. The odor subsided, but didn't vanish. So, deciding to resort to desperate measures, I then buried the book in baking soda, sealed it in the container, and will see what happens (below).

image.png.13447e53a68534a478e9d79f071bfc6c.png

I really want to read the book, of course, and perhaps I should have returned it, but I didn't think the odor would prove so invincible.

How do others deal with musty and smelly books? Am I traipsing down a fool's path?

 

My goodness. Did you check for dead animals inside?

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4 years ago, I purchased the 2 volume hardcover set "Greek Coins And Their Values" by Sear, the year 2000 reprint, from Ebay. When they arrived, they had a very strong smell of cigarette smoke, every time I opened the books. I guess the previous owner, or someone in his/her house, smoked cigarettes. I have noticed that, if a person smokes cigarettes indoors, then, depending on how often he/she smokes, everything in his/her house, that is made of cloth or paper, eventually can smell like cigarette smoke, to a person who doesn't smoke cigarettes, unless he/she has a designated "smoking room".

If I remember correctly, the cigarette smoke smell was very strong, for at least the first year that I owned the books, or maybe longer.

However, over the past 4 years, the cigarette smoke smell has diminished greatly. Nowadays, when I open either of the books, I don't smell the cigarette smoke smell, unless I put my nose in the book and inhale.

I've bought approximately 50 used coin books, but this was the only time, that any of the used coin books had a strong smell.

On the other hand, I have some old coin books, which have a very pleasant "old book smell", almost a sweet smell, especially the books with high quality paper. However, the smell is usually not very strong, unless I put my nose in the book.

@ewomack Does the book smell like mildew? Mildew happens, if a book (or clothes) get wet, and are left wet for a few days or longer. What does the book look like? Are the pages wrinkled? Are the pages discolored? Does the book smell like mold? Does the book smell like a dead mouse?

Here are some ideas I had.

1. You could try spraying the book, with a strong perfume, if you prefer the smell of perfume.

2. You could spray the book with air freshener.

3. You could spray the book with "new car smell", or "old book smell", etc, if Amazon has such things.

4. You may need to open the book, and spray each page of the book.

Edited by sand
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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, sand said:

4 years ago, I purchased the 2 volume hardcover set "Greek Coins And Their Values" by Sear, the year 2000 reprint, from Ebay. When they arrived, they had a very strong smell of cigarette smoke, every time I opened the books. I guess the previous owner, or someone in his/her house, smoked cigarettes. I have noticed that, if a person smokes cigarettes indoors, then, depending on how often he/she smokes, everything in his/her house, that is made of cloth or paper, eventually can smell like cigarette smoke, to a person who doesn't smoke cigarettes, unless he/she has a designated "smoking room".

If I remember correctly, the cigarette smoke smell was very strong, for at least the first year that I owned the books, or maybe longer.

However, over the past 4 years, the cigarette smoke smell has diminished greatly. Nowadays, when I open either of the books, I don't smell the cigarette smoke smell, unless I put my nose in the book and inhale.

I've bought approximately 50 used coin books, but this was the only time, that any of the used coin books had a strong smell.

On the other hand, I have some old coin books, which have a very pleasant "old book smell", almost a sweet smell, especially the books with high quality paper. However, the smell is usually not very strong, unless I put my nose in the book.

@ewomack Does the book smell like mildew? Mildew happens, if a book (or clothes) get wet, and are left wet for a few days or longer. What does the book look like? Are the pages wrinkled? Are the pages discolored? Does the book smell like mold? Does the book smell like a dead mouse?

Here are some ideas I had.

1. You could try spraying the book, with a strong perfume, if you prefer the smell of perfume.

2. You could spray the book with air freshener.

3. You could spray the book with "new car smell", or "old book smell", etc, if Amazon has such things.

4. You may need to open the book, and spray each page of the book.

The book looks absolutely fine, brand new even, and has no appearance of water damage. No page wrinkles, stains or signs of warping exist anywhere in the book that I can find. But it does reek of mildew, strong mildew, mildew dredged up from Hades. I've purchased other older items with similar odors, such as copies of "Puck" from the late 19th century, old silent film press kits from the 1920s, etc., and I expect at least some odor from items of such vintage. But none of them have even come close to the stench emanating from this book not yet 20 years old. I would guess, similar to the cigarette story, that the book lived for some time in a wet basement and it absorbed the stench from something nearby, or perhaps from the environment itself. I would really hate to smell the source of that odor.

I did read online that baking soda could remove such odors, but apparently after only a few days. Yet the book has sat in a sealed container going on two weeks now with only meager signs of improvement. Perfume or a scent of some kind may allow me to actually read the book, so if my latest attempt at smothering it in baking soda goes nowhere, perhaps I'll try that. Since my first post, I also came across something called "Smelleze," which purports to rid old documents and books of odors. But is it just baking soda or some equivalent in a fancy package? Hard to say.

Other sources suggest kitty litter or dryer sheets. Yet another source recommends "MicroChamber Enclosure paper," but it looks expensive. And then I came across a source that said to not put baking soda directly on books because "this will cause another problem," but it does not mention what. More significantly, it adds that the baking soda technique can take up to a month, so perhaps I just need to apply patience.

Further update: I found no other sources that warned against putting baking soda on books. Then I came across a video of someone who literally fanned their smelly book's pages directly with baking soda throughout, so I am going to try the same. The picture below shows the book bulging with baking soda (without impacting the spine). So we shall see.
image.png.83475ea3e19a4f299e979fe2b487ac6d.png

Edited by ewomack
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I’m certainly no expert, but am familiar with basic archival concepts.


I think baking soda is fairly inert and could be removed by carefully vacuuming.

I wouldn’t spray a paper object with any aerosol; I’d be afraid its chemicals would be absorbed by, and over time, degrade the paper. 
 

My 2 cents.

Edited by Etcherdude
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I've also had a few smelly old books that my wife didn't want inside. I then stored them in an absolutely dry, but well ventilated place and after about a half year they passed the smell test. So if you are not in a hurry....

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Some people do have a heightened sense of smell.  Perhaps that's teh case? I hope things improve with the book.

You sure wouldn't have liked a cool vintage shop that was in town for half a century.  It specialized in NOS hippie clothes, but the downsides were the musty smell and decades of cat pee.

 

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1 hour ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

Some people do have a heightened sense of smell.  Perhaps that's teh case? I hope things improve with the book.

You sure wouldn't have liked a cool vintage shop that was in town for half a century.  It specialized in NOS hippie clothes, but the downsides were the musty smell and decades of cat pee.

 

And patchouli?

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Lol.  I wish I could have bought more at Trivet's.  They had a killer selection of c. 1970 platform shoes during the early 90s, but I was just a teen with not a lot of spending money.

The cats didn't get to the shoes.  They still were musty, though.

Why cat pee?  For as long as I can remember, the owner's cats were allowed to roam the place.

Edited by Nerosmyfavorite68
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The smell of this book definitely doesn't rival cat pee (speaking from experience, having lived with "not optimally disciplined" cats myself in the past), but it's far beyond any book, new or old, that I've ever had shipped to me. Though I do lean towards a more sensitive schnoz (finally an opportunity for a Jimmy Durante reference), even my wife says that the book sits well beyond the "offensive" side of the tolerable book odor continuum. Having spent much time in antique stores and antiquarian book shops, and having plenty of old stuff around (including a 1905 Edison cylinder phonograph, some cylinders, old magazines and books and family heirlooms from the 1910s - 1930s), I can definitely take musty. But I can't take a level of musty that nearly inspires a gag reflex. This book ranks far above anything I have encountered and has moved indubitably to my #1 position of stinky books I have encountered. I hope that nothing ever tops it.

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Have you considered simply returning the book for breaching the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for particular use, and buying another copy? This is beginning to remind me of the Seinfeld episode about the car that smelled.

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14 hours ago, DonnaML said:

Have you considered simply returning the book for breaching the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for particular use, and buying another copy? This is beginning to remind me of the Seinfeld episode about the car that smelled.

 If I recall, there was no solution to Seinfeld's car-smell; even the thief was repelled. But Elaine did wash her hair in tomato sauce.Though I'm not recommending that at this point.

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An ozone generator (used for smell elimination) *might* do the trick. I imagine you'd have to fan out the book pages and put it into a small contained space with the generator for it to work.

This is the cheapest one I could find on Amazon. No idea how well it works.

https://www.amazon.com/GESPERT-Generator-Rechargeable-Eliminate-Eliminator/dp/B07P2WHPP6/ref=sr_1_33?gclid=Cj0KCQjw2_OWBhDqARIsAAUNTTE4etPaUTmtYh3SfCn5p7xyI_swP7EQstgUS10U3qAMOFOnk1cSKyEaAlRAEALw_wcB&hvadid=490238627422&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9003593&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=8844694841265470486&hvtargid=kwd-39642910&hydadcr=24660_13446930&keywords=ozone+generator&qid=1658690142&sr=8-33

Then there are larger models with higher output (that might have worked on Seinfeld's car - which is one use for them).

 

 

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Somehow, I managed to never see a single episode of "Seinfeld." It wasn't intentional, it just never happened. I did work in television during the years that show aired, so maybe my strange working hours kept me from seeing it? But yes, I have considered returning the book. I'm going to give the latest fresh coat of baking soda a chance and, if that doesn't work, I will contact the vendor and suggest that they do not store their unsold inventory in a crypt. I've had nothing but good experiences with the vendor in the past, and, since the book only cost $20 - $25, I don't want to make too big of a fuss. It looks like a great book, so I'm anxious to read it. Maybe I just need to read it with a fan blowing from behind me? Something will work out, I hope. Thank you everyone for the suggestions and comments. Ultimately, I do find this situation comical. I've laughed more than I've cried or gnashed. A book, especially such a recent one, should not smell this bad.

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The baking soda trick is the cheapest but it will take some time (over a month).  I am dealing with several Chinese / Japanese books that I acquired recently that has a musty order as well.  The only way to get rid of this is to use baking soda without damaging the book.  They are antique (around mid 1800s and earlier), so its been around for a while. You are supposed keep it AWAY from the book as to not drench it in baking soda.  Ideally, it should be elevated and with the pages fanned out. 

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, quant.geek said:

 You are supposed keep it AWAY from the book as to not drench it in baking soda.  Ideally, it should be elevated and with the pages fanned out. 

Do you know why the book should remain away from the baking soda? I read conflicting views on this. As said further above, one source said to not sprinkle the soda on the book, then "you'll have other problems," but it didn't elaborate. One YouTube video showed someone who filled their smelly book with baking soda and enclosed it in a zip-lock bag, which apparently worked after only a few days. As others said, baking soda should be pretty inert and shouldn't damage the book. Or does one keep the book and soda separated because the method only works from a distance? Just curious, as I can't seem to find fully consistent answers on this point.

The goods news is that the smell seems to have subsided somewhat after a week or two encased with, and in, baking soda. Some odor definitely still exists, but not with quite the same fury. Perhaps it just needs a few more weeks.

Edited by ewomack
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It seems to me that the book needs to air out.  Can you put it in another room where the book can be kept open, turning the pages from time to time.

I have an old first edition of Huckleberry Finn that didn't have a musty odor, rather It had some kind of oil stain on some of the pages.  I put baking soda between the pages and that seemed to help.  The staining is still there, but diminished. 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

I know that you have all waited with excessively bated breath, tossing and turning in your sleep, inundated with tenterhooks, and pacing your carpets threadbare while awaiting an update on my stinky book. 😁

After over a month sealed in a container with an entire 16 oz bag of baking soda, my ill-fated odoriferous copy of Coinage in the Roman World now has a considerably decreased smell. I can finally flip through its pages without passing out. If I put my face right up to it, a remnant of the nasty scent still lingers, but the odor at arms length now seems more than tolerable. As a few of the researched sources said, it can take up to a month to decrease odor with baking soda. It appears true. Who is the Roman god/goddess of baking soda? I owe that deity a debt.

StinkyBook.jpg.f4c5cf81995e5cd64a3da9ad2d662d69.jpg

Edited by ewomack
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I've encountered the mildew/mold problem with used books a few times. Like you I layer the book in baking soda - getting it on every page possible.. tie this all up in a bag and place the bag in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Its worked for me.

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On 7/22/2022 at 11:34 PM, ewomack said:

I figured who better to ask about a musty book than people who collect ancient things? 😁

The book itself is not ancient, or even old. It's Spink's Coinage in the Roman World from 2004. Yet someone must have stored it in an ancient tomb for years. I've handled books from the 18th century that weren't as corrosive to the nose and throat.

When it arrived from the dealer, a smell like I've never experienced before emanated from the box. I could barely even look through the book, as the flapping pages would waft the odor right back into my face.

I put it in a container with some baking soda and checked it over the course of a week. The odor subsided, but didn't vanish. So, deciding to resort to desperate measures, I then buried the book in baking soda, sealed it in the container, and will see what happens (below).

image.png.13447e53a68534a478e9d79f071bfc6c.png

I really want to read the book, of course, and perhaps I should have returned it, but I didn't think the odor would prove so invincible.

How do others deal with musty and smelly books? Am I traipsing down a fool's path?

 

Not sure if I’ve ever gotten a book as smelly as yours, but I have quite a few that come from the man cave of a smoking numismatist, so there is little to remind one of flowers and perfume. 
 

I tend to think that the odor is from my rotting brain. What else can cause me to spend salary after salary on smelly books and coins that don’t work anymore. 

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