That peculiar smell/odor when some old books are opened, might at times be associated with mold and foxing. We come across books with foxing that may have very strong odor. All old books have vellichor, but some have stronger musty odor.

Foxing is an age-related process of deterioration that causes spots and browning on old paper documents and books. The name may derive from the fox-like reddish-brown color of the stains.

One of the two books that we have received in our lab recently, mainly for foxing treatment, has a very strong odor. As soon as this book is opened, there is a heavy smell, and the only problem we find is that of ‘foxing’ (apart from general acidic yellowing due to ageing).


Cain and Miller have developed a classification of foxing types by shape, colour and UV fluorescence examination [S. Bertalan (ed.), Foxing, in Paper Conservation Catalog, 8th edn., The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Washington DC, 1992,12].




It is  possible that the appearance of foxing to be caused by chemical reactions of iron traces from the paper (iron oxide and iron hydroxide) and organic acids produced by fungus. Hey and Beckwith proposed these dual mechanisms:

1. damp → mold acid → activation of iron → increased acid → mold death;
2. damp → activation of iron → increased acidity → local encouragement of mold → increased acidity → death of mold [ M. Hey, The Antiquarian Book, Monthly Review, 10(9) (1983) 341].

Question that remains is if the foxing needs to be treated for stains or fungus/mold or both or neither…


Author: namitajaspal
Namita Jaspal, with inherited skills of art and aesthetics and passion for science, opted to pursue post- graduation in ‘Conservation of Cultural Property’ after her graduation in Science from Delhi University in 1992. Four year intense training at National Museum Institute provided the right foundation to start a career in Conservation. She is currently practicing conservation consultancy for Heritage property including monuments and collections. She has been doing independent research in conservation techniques and procedures in Indian context. She is currently working on the conservation of wall-paintings of Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji (The Golden temple at Amritsar. The project is nearing completion and getting a lot of appreciation for the organized and ethical treatment it is providing. It is for the first time in the history of Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji (The Golden Temple) that wall painting conservation and preservation is being done in a scientific manner, keeping the codes of Ethics into consideration while decision making. Another project just completed is of the Conservation of Krishna Temple at Kishankot, Gurdaspur, Punjab. In her private Conservation Laboratory, she is not only providing onservation services, but also mentoring young aspiring conservators and archaeologists by the way of training and paid internships. She has been a guest lecturer at DIHRM (Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management). With all the updated knowledge database and innovative practical approaches relevant to the Indian conditions, she could successfully do curative and preservative treatment of very old textiles like a nine feet long flag from nineteenth century that is regarded as priceless memorabilia of second Dogra regiment at Chandi Mandir, and four hundred years old (seventeenth century) Chola Sahib Ji of Sixth Guru of Sikhs, Sri Hargobind Sahib Ji. Apart from this she has done conservation of Photograph collections, archival records, numerous paintings, manuscripts and other cultural objects. She is also involved in preparation of up-gradation proposals for museums and such organizations. Her expertise includes Conservation and preservation technologies and procedures for conservation of varied material like wall paintings, paper, photographs, textile, ceramics, stone, metal and archaeological objects.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.