Kakofonous A. Dischord from The Phantom Tollbooth

Recently, a friend and I were talking about sounds that are quickly becoming obsolete, like the scratch of a record player or the screech of chalk across a blackboard. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard about a place that keeps such sounds digitally catalogued, a modern version of The Phantom Tollbooth‘s Kakofonous A. Dischord, Doctor of Dissonance who kept sounds in apothecary-type bottles.

It occurred to me that a similar place could exist for extinct smells, yet documenting scents is so much more difficult than recording sounds. The Museum of Arts and Design in New York will attempt to do just that this November. Chandler Burr, who wrote the profile of Jean-Claude Ellena I discussed yesterday, is curating an exhibit called “The Art of Scent: 1889-2011.” This exhibit will “trace the evolution of modern perfume, from Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky (1889), among the first to use synthetic ingredients, through midcentury classics like Edmond Roudnitska’s Diorama (1949), which Mr. Burr calls ‘one of the greatest Abstract Expressionist perfumes in the world,’ to several contemporary fragrances.”

Perfumes displayed at the Osmotheque

But Mr. Burr is not the first one to think of such a presentation of smells; The Osmotheque in Versailles, France labels itself “The International Perfume Conservatory” whose mission is to preserve the classic fragrances of the French perfume industry (apparently, the “international” aspect only comes from the tourists–non-French perfumes have no place here). The Osmotheque’s largest claim to fame of recent note was recreating Marie Antoinette’s personal perfume (they were probably more faithful to her scent than I was to Cleopatra in my own experiments).

Yet, of course, the Osmotheque and Chandler Burr’s perfume exhibit deal in synthetic scents. As far as I know, there is no shrine to the naturally beautiful, the smell of biting into a ripe plum on a sunny afternoon, the smell of pavement after an August rain, the special blend of woodsmoke and nutmeg that reminds me of Christmas. These are the kind of smells that trigger wonderful memories for me, the kind of smells I’d want to preserve.

What smells would you preserve if you could?