Anthropodermic bibliopegy

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. Though extremely uncommon in modern times, the technique dates back to at least the 17th century. The practice is inextricably connected with the practice of tanning human skin, often done in certain circumstances after a corpse has been dissected.


The trend for anthropodermic bibliopegy likely began in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, although the first reputed example, a French Bible, dates back to the 13th century. [1]

Surviving historical examples of this technique include anatomy texts bound with the skin of dissected cadavers, volumes created as a bequest and bound with the skin of the testator (known as "autoanthropodermic bibliopegy"), and copies of judicial proceedings bound in the skin of the murderer convicted in those proceedings, such as in the case of John Horwood in 1821 and the Red Barn Murder in 1828.

What has been called "the most famous of all anthropodermic bindings" resides at Boston Athenaeum, titled The Highwayman: Narrative of the Life of James Allen alias George Walton. It is by James Allen, who asked to have his memoir bound in his own skin and presented to a man he once tried to rob and admired for his bravery.[1]

The libraries of many universities include one or more samples of anthropodermic bibliopegy. The rare book collection at the Harvard Law School Library holds a book that was long believed to be bound in human skin, Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae, a treatise on Spanish law, though testing on the binding has proven that it was bound in sheepskin.[2] A faint inscription on the last page of the book states:

The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my deare friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma[3] on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Btesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.

In 2014, Harvard's Houghton Library confirmed a book in its collection, Des destinées de l'ame by Arsène Houssaye was bound in human skin.[4]

The John Hay Library's special books collection at Brown University contains three human-skin books,[5] including a rare copy of De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Vesalius. The University of Pennsylvania medical school created a few human-skin books in the late 19th century.[1]

The French astronomer Camille Flammarion's book Les terres du ciel (The Worlds of the Sky) (1877) was bound with the skin donated from a female admirer.[6]

Some early copies of Dale Carnegie's Lincoln the Unknown were covered with jackets containing a patch of skin from an African American man, onto which the title had been embossed.[7][8] A portion of the binding in the copy that is part of the collection of Temple University's Charles L. Blockson Collection was "taken from the skin of a Negro at a Baltimore Hospital and tanned by the Jewell Belting Company".[7]

The National Library of Australia holds a book of 18th century poetry with the inscription "Bound in human skin" on the first page.[9]

Another such book resides at the University of Georgia in the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Library.

Several anatomical volumes, including at least one belonging to and apparently prepared by the renowned anatomist Joseph Leidy (September 9, 1823 – April 30, 1891) are in the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. As of August 2012, these volumes and samples of human-skin leather were on public display.

Moyses Hall, at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England, contains a book said to be bound in the skin of murderer William Corder.[10]

There is also a tradition of certain volumes of erotica being bound in human skin. Examples reported include a copy of the Marquis de Sade's Justine et Juliette bound in tanned skin from female breasts.[11]:98 Other examples are known, with the feature of the intact human nipple on one or more of the boards of the book.[11]:99

Bookbinder Edward Hertzberg describes the Monastery Hill Bindery having been approached by “[a]n Army Surgeon…with a copy of Holbein’s Dance of Death with the request that we bind it in a piece of human skin, which he brought along.” Further description of the proffered skin and binding, which was inlaid with different piece of leather and decorated with a skull, is in the short paragraph.[12]

Popular culture

The binding of books in human skin is also a common element within horror films and works of fiction:

  • In the fiction novel The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling, a bookbinder is brought “leather” by a client with which to undertake a “special binding” of this nature.[13]
  • In H.P. Lovecraft's horror story "The Hound", the narrator and his friend St John, who are graverobbers, have a collection of macabre artefacts. Amongst them, "A locked portfolio, bound in tanned human skin, held certain unknown and unnameable drawings which it was rumoured Goya had perpetrated but dared not acknowledge." [14]
  • In "The Eye of God" by James Rollins, Vigor receives a package from Father Josip Tarasco that contains a skull and an ancient book bound in human skin.
  • P. C. Hodgell's Kencyr series features "the Book Bound in Pale Leather", which appears to be bound in living human skin.
  • Peter Greenaway's 1996 film The Pillow Book contains a sequence in which the body of a writer's lover is exhumed by an obsessed publisher; and his skin, which she wrote upon after his death, is painstakingly tanned and bound into a book.
  • In the Evil Dead series of films and comic books originally created by Sam Raimi, a fictional Sumerian book called the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis is bound in human skin and inked with human blood.
  • The video game Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem centers around a book called the Tome of Eternal Darkness which is bound in human flesh.
  • Chuck Palahniuk's novel Lullaby features a book bound in human skin called The Grimoire.
  • Mayhem's 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas references books bound in human skin in the title track.
  • In the episode "Like a Virgin" of the TV series Supernatural, the book containing the spell to release the Mother of All is printed on human skin.
  • In the Disney movie Hocus Pocus, the eldest Sanderson sister's (played by Bette Midler) fictional spellbook is bound in a patchwork of human skin with an enchanted, moving human eye embedded in the cover.
  • In the video game Shadow Hearts one of the characters is able to use a book bound from human skin as a weapon.[15]
  • The titular book in the Canadian television series Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is allegedly bound in human skin.
  • The crime novel "Leathered" by Steven Goss features a collector of macabre artefacts, including books bound in human skin.
  • The video game "Assassin's Creed Unity" features the practice of binding books in human skins in a mission set in 18th Century Franciade.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Samuel P. Jacobs (February 2, 2006). "The Skinny on Harvard's Rare Book Collection". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved April 3, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Karen Beck (April 3, 2014). "852 RARE: Old Books, New Technologies, and "The Human Skin Book" at HLS". The Harvard Law School Library Blog. Retrieved April 3, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The Wavuma are believed to be an African tribe from the region currently known as Zimbabwe.
  4. Cole, Heather. "Caveat Lecter", Houghton Library Blog. June 4, 2014.
  5. Johnson, M.L. (January 7, 2006). "Some of nation's best libraries have books bound in human skin". Associated Press. Retrieved 2012-06-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Books Bound in Human Skin; Lampshade Myth?
  7. 7.0 7.1 San Francisco Chronicle
  8. Temple University Libraries and Charles L. Blockson, Catalogue of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection: A Unit of the Temple University Libraries, Temple University Press, 1990, p. 16. ISBN 0877227497
  9. "Poems bound up in a human skin". Canberra Times. 8 August 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Killer cremated after 180 years". BBC News. 17 August 2004. Retrieved 4 July 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Thompson, Lawrence (April 1946). Human Skin. v.34(2). Bulletin of the Medical Library Association.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Hertzberg, Edward (1933). Forty-four years as a bookbinder. Chicago: Ernst Hertzberg and Sons Monastery Hill Bindery. p. 43.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Novák, Caterina (2013). "Those Very 'Other' Victorians: Interrogating Neo-Victorian Feminism in The Journal of Dora Damage" (PDF). Neo-Victorian Studies. 6 (2). ISSN 1757-9481. Retrieved 30 November 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. H.P. Lovecraft, Dagon & Other Macabre Tales. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1965, p. 153
  15. "Alice's ultimate weapon "The Holy Book of Flesh" is said to be bound from human skin".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • R.W. Hackwood, "Human Skin Tanned", Notes and Queries, 3rd series, X (Oct 27, 1866), 341.
  • F. A. Carrington, "Human Skin Tanned, etc.", Notes and Queries, 2nd series, II (Oct 11, 1856), 299.
  • Alfred Wallis, "Book Bound in Human Skin", Notes and Queries, 7th series, VIII (March 30, 1889), 246.
  • H. Tapley-Soper, 'Books Bound in Human Skin", Notes and Queries, CLI (July 24, 1926), 68-9 and CLXXXVII (Dec 30, 1944), 306. Tapley-Soper was librarian of the Exeter City Library.
  • John Pavin Philips, "Human Skin Tanned, etc", Notes and Queries, 2nd series, II (Sept 27, 1856), 251-2.
  • Paul McPharlin, "Curious Book Bindings", Notes and Queries, CLIII (1927), 6.
  • C. Roy Hudleston, "Books Bound in Human Skin", Notes and Queries, CLXXXVII (Nov 18, 1944), 241.
  • A.H. W Fynmore, "Books Boun in Human Skin", Notes and Queries, CLXXXVII (Dec 2, 1944), 259.
  • [anon] "Curl Up on a Good Book", The Dolphin, Fall, 1940, Pt 1 (no 4), p. 92.
  • Henry Stephens, "Human Skin Tanned, etc", Notes and Queries, 2nd series, II (Sept 27, 1856), 252.
  • Walter Hart Blumenthal, "Books Bound in Human Skin", The American Book Collector, II (1932), 123-4.
  • "G", "Human Skin Tanned", Notes and Queries, 3rd series, VIII (Dec 2, 1865), 463.
  • "T.G.S.", "Human Skin Tanned, etc", Notes and Queries, 2nd series, II (Sept 27, 1856), 252.
  • "F.S." of Churchdown, "Human Skin Tanned, etc", Notes and Queries, 2nd series, II (Sept 27, 1856), 250-1.
  • Smith, Daniel K. (2014). "Bound In Human Skin: A Survey of Examples of Anthropodermic Bibliopegy". In Joanna Ebenstein, Colin Dickey (eds.) (eds.). The Morbid Anatomy Anthology (First ed.). Brooklyn, New York: Morbid Anatomy Press. ISBN 9780989394307.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links