That old thrift store aroma

Discussion in 'The Golden Era' started by tonyb, Apr 21, 2021.

  1. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    What is that smell? And how would you describe it? Musty, of course, but it’s something not quite that.

    This comes to mind because another old Life magazine arrived in today’s mail. Its aroma, somehow acquired somewhere along its 59 years of life, transports me back to the old St. Vincent de Paul store on Lake Union. The old main Goodwill store off Dearborn Street had that smell, too, but few of today’s thrift emporia do.

    Maybe those who know such things can fill us in in the science of this olfactory phenomenon?
     
  2. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    With clothing it is likely a strange brew of; sweat, bodily fluids, and molds. I was a costumer for a theatre company in another life time and thrift stores were my Macy's. I would arrive home after a day of foraging and I could not get the smell of out my olfactory receptors. I could bath and scrub it off me but could not get it out of my nose.
     
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  3. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    Old paper gets an odd odor, too — magazines and newspapers more than books, maybe? Maybe it has something to do with different types of paper? Or maybe that’s just my imagination.
     
  4. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    My guess would be that as kraft paper & newsprint are a low grade paper product and uses a lot of chemicals in the process likely with residue that might not be in the better grade paper used in books.
     
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  5. Oversidor

    Oversidor New in Town

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    This thread is really interesting. Thank you for this thread.
     
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  6. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I've always thought of it as a mixture of mothballs and cedar. A lot of old closets in a lot of old houses finally disgorging their bounty.

    As for old paper, there are definite differences in the types of it. Newsprint paper such as you find in newspapers, pulp magazines, comic books, and similar cheap publications, has a very sharp, acidy smell, no doubt because of its high acid content. "Life" always has a very distinctive smell that I figure has to do with the processing done to get that heavy, coated surface. "Liberty" magazine, "Radio Guide," newspaper Sunday supplements, and other magazines printed by the rotogravure process have an oily-newsprint smell that comes from the special ink used. And the most distinctive odor of all comes from the Curtis magazines -- Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Country Gentleman -- all of which have a particular tangy smell that, again, must have to do with that thin, slick paper stock they use.

    When you spend a lot of your time surrounded by old paper, you become a connoisseur of such aromas.
     
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  7. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Law library stacks of Illinois Reports; United States Reports with musty odors bring back memory of long ago days.:)
     
  8. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    Just read a magazine piece called “What’s That Smell You’re Reading?” that identifies several factors in the varying aromas of printed matter — primarily old (like, real old) books.

    Yes, it’s the various types of papers, and the glues, and the inks, and whatever might have been used in the bindings, and how those materials break down over the years and decades and centuries, and whatever environments the matter had been in and for how long, etc.

    Remember the “energy crisis” of the 1970s? It was advised then that we close off entire rooms in our houses and not heat them, so as to conserve energy. In the reliably cool and damp Maritime Northwest we learned that such a practice reliably leads to mold and mildew (mildew is a type of mold, I believe, but for all my life among my people it has been accorded its own distinct category, so there).

    I’ve come across old books that likely were stored under such relatively damp conditions, with spots of mold on the covers and the outer portions of the pages.

    So that’s part of the old thrift store aroma. But only a part. Stuff breaks down over time and emits odorous compounds. Might it be that certain of those compounds permeate the structures in which that old stuff is placed? So that even if the buildings were emptied down to the walls a smell would remain?
     
  9. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    Mold is a very hardy organism....it just needs moisture and a food source to thrive and the bad news.... just about anything is a food source for it. I worked for a decade for an air quality engineering company and we did lots of post remediation testing to insure the building was safe for habitation. Odours would linger sometimes for ever. The standard practice was to bring in ozonation units to rid the area of odors but to my nose rarely worked all that well. The best way to combat it ....not allow the molds to thrive in the first place. If asked...."is there mold present?".....the answer is always a Yes....as we swim in a sea of mold....just don't create conditions that allow it to thrive. Some of the strains are benign while others are very harmful.
     
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  10. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    ^^^^^
    Greater Vancouver must be Nirvana for certain molds. It’s pretty much the some climate as Seattle, where I resided for lo those many years, and where organic stuff (paper, natural fibers, leather, etc.) left in unheated garages and sheds and such will serve as a buffet line for molds. A friend in Tacoma recently posted a photo of a pair of black suede boots pretty well covered in mildew, because she had “put them away” for the season.
     
  11. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    Whereas around here (greater Denver), the problem can be too little humidity, which causes its own set of problems.
     
  12. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    Yes, our climate was a make work project for me for a decade. The scariest example was after I retired and I tested the rental home of my niece. An upscale $5K a month rental home. The family was having breathing issues. The home presented zero evidence of mold, no visuals, no odour. I tested and found mold levels 100's of time over the allowable limits. I had never tested anything that high. The entire family, including the nanny now has compromised lungs. The culprit? The home is set into a slope with the back of the house underground for the first level. There is a creek next door so the entire back perimetre of the house is constantly soaked and while there were no visual clues the concrete was damp all the time....creating ideal environment for the mold to flourish. A truly stealth killer.
     
  13. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    ^^^^^^
    That’s awful! Is the lung damage reversible? I’ll say it again, that’s just awful!

    So I am to conclude that among the molds more dangerous to humans are those undetectable to the unaided senses. It’s like radon that way, eh? Can’t see it, can’t smell it. can’t taste it. But it can kill you.
     
  14. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    Johnny Lattner, former Notre Dame football player and Heisman Trophy winner passed four or five years ago
    from mesothelioma which he acquired while working summer construction during college. Asbestos, a fibrous silicate
    used for insulation purpose proved deadly. I met him at Hines VA Hospital while waiting for an appointment.
    He told me that Frank Leahy, ND football coach warned his players that if they failed to make grades it would
    be the draft and Korea, but nobody flunked out. After graduation he was commissioned in the Air Force and later
    played for the Steelers. Johnny rented out his Heisman Trophy to several Chicago bars and at the time we first met
    he said he really didn't know which-bar-where the HT was at. I had seen it at Reilly's Daughter so offered that
    reminder. A great guy.
     
  15. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    I also did a great deal of post abatement asbestos testing. In Vancouver the industry is manned by largely Hispanic (Honduran) young men. It is about the nastiest work I have come across save perhaps for the killing floor of an abattoir. It is highly regulated and an aspect of my job was to monitor and clear the space as safe for the workers. Still there are many outliers that don't hire us, as it is cheaper to pay the fines that comply with the regulations. The young and hungry immigrant men pay the price.....nasty work.
     
  16. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    Right off the top o’ my empty little head I can think of a couple of occasions I’ve been exposed to friable asbestos. I learned of that exposure only in retrospect. Seeing how asbestos was in so many common building products, which I may have played a part in tearing out decades later, it wouldn’t be a complete shock to learn of other exposures which until now I have been unaware.

    I’ve heard tales of the workers in the shipyards during WWII working in clouds of the stuff, with no protective gear whatsoever. And many of them smoked Camels and Lucky Strikes.
     
  17. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    In the dear dead days of The Glorious Fifties, my mother smoked Kents -- the brand that put the asbestos *right in the filter.* She hasn't died of any lung condition yet, but that might be because she's made entirely of cast iron and not because the cigs weren't deadly.

    Spending a lot of time in theatres, I've been around, in front of, or behind more than one old asbestos fire curtain. They're usually left in place because it's often considered more of a risk to move them out than to just leave them alone.
     
  18. Harp

    Harp I'll Lock Up

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    I was once involved with a lawsuit directed at the federal government for asbestos-caused death.
    However, the US Government refuses to acknowledge; or, at that time, refused to acknowledge either asbestos
    as a danger or any fault for asbestos construction usage.
     
  19. tonyb

    tonyb I'll Lock Up

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    So I’ve heard. Old furnace ductings wrapped in asbestos cloth and painted over (as in the basement of a friend’s old house) won’t hurt anything if they aren’t disturbed. Same with lotsa old linoleum floor tiles. Same with some acoustic (aka popcorn) ceilings.
     
  20. belfastboy

    belfastboy I'll Lock Up

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    Like hot sauce....they used that shit on everything. Wasn't the tiles but often in the paper used between tiles and sub floor.. Ducting tape & the mastic used to seal the joints, sheet rock made before 1992 is the most commonly found. Sheet rock installers would often throw handfuls of asbestos into their buckets of joint compound as it made a good binder. But yes, as long as they are undisturbed or have not begun to break down they are best left alone. Part of our work was working for large property management companies that would hire us to complete yearly asbestos status reports. We first would identify asbestos and then monitor it yearly for signs of deterioration.
     
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