The Archive is currently open on Saturdays only, and for a $20 entry fee, each visitor gets an hour (the ideal amount of time) to peruse the collection. You receive a few items upon entry: instructions on “making the most of your curious visit,” a strip of wool to help reset your sense of smell when it fades (“Others use coffee beans, but I find this works much better,” Aftel tells me), and three individual scent strips to take home samples from a large “perfume organ”—a long, multi-row display of dozens of stand-alone scents such as fir, dill, lime, coffee, and even butter.
If you find you have questions while, say, browsing the display on civets―long-bodied and short-limbed cat-like creatures―and their role in ancient perfumery, either Aftel, her son, Devon, or her husband, Foster, is onsite to assist. Otherwise, you're free to explore on your own, and there’s ample exploring to do.
One of the best things about the Aftel Archive of Curious Scents is that it's a fully interactive experience. Drawers are meant to be opened, lids to be lifted and sniffed, and books picked up and read. There's no particular order to the displays, so you may find yourself digging through the contents of a tabletop oak apothecary cabinet and handling fragrant patchouli leaves and pieces of Virginia cedarwood, and then moving on to browse a cabinet of curiosities with things like 18th-century star-, diamond-, and crescent-shaped facial “beauty patches” (temporary beauty marks). Fifteen minutes later, you're perusing the pages of books like Spices and How to Know Them, Vegetable Gums and Resins, and A History of the Use of Incense from the comfort of a sunny window seat.