The Museum of Historical Smells

Smell and memory, they say, are bound up tightly together. So why is there no museum devoted to the smells of the past? What better way to immerse ourselves in the life of past times than to recreate the sharp tang of bathtub gin or heavy perfumes masking the putrefaction of the Black Death?

Thinking about, every decade in my short span has had a distinctive palette of smells. The sixties were all graham crackers and orange juice. The hot summer days of the seventies floated in a pleasant haze of newsprint, bubblegum and outgassing polyester. The eighties were coated in a clammy film of cigarettes, musty carpets and Chanel #5. The nineties reeked of videotape. air conditioning and convenience store fried chicken. The naughts so far have been all about garlic, burnt rubber and sweat.

But that’s me, of course. Yours will be different.

I did find out that there is a company in England that produces historical smells for museum exhibits, including T. Rex breath, which is apparently just awful. They’re called Dale Air, and their website is fairly cool. I just wish I could download some free samples.

3 thoughts on “The Museum of Historical Smells

    • Hours later, still picturing the TARDIS with a nose. And wondering why it would need to be removable.

      Still, we can make some guesses about how the past smelled based on what we know about the environment and any human activity that was going on at the time. Burning coal, for example, has a very distinctive smell, and the early Industrial Age probably reeked of it. Natural fibers have a different smell than synthetic ones. All kinds of things might give us clues about the aromas associated with any given era.

      But really, why would it need to be removable?

      • Well, d’you remember that bit in that one Christmas special when the be-dressing-gowned Doctor is making an impassioned speech to the assembled Sycorax? How impressive would that have been if his TARDIS had started snorting in the middle of it?

        Besides, the time vortex is probably very cold, it’d catch something.

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