I was reading ‘The time travelers wife’, when the author mentions books made from human skin. I had never heard or read about anything like this before. So I decided to Google a bit. And surprisingly I have come up with loads and loads of information.
The practice was fairly common in the 19th century. It even has a name: anthropodermic bibliopegy. It was commonly used to bind medical books. The skin used was often that of prisoners to be executed, preferably murderers. They found human leather to be relatively cheap, durable and waterproof. There are quite a few books in many reputed libraries from the world including the Harvard University Library.
The private Boston Athenaeum library has an 1837 edition of a highway robber’s memoirs wrapped in his own skin. Brown University holds an anatomy book that, appropriately enough, is bound in human skin.
One copy of “The Dance of Death” dates to 1816 but was rebound in 1893 by Joseph Zaehnsdorf, a master binder in London. A note to his client reports that he did not have enough skin and had to split it. The front cover, bound in the outer layer of the epidermis, has a slightly bumpy texture, like soft sandpaper. The spine and back cover, made from the inner layer of skin, feels like suede
In 1821, John Horwood was hanged for murder in Bristol, England in 1821. Horwood’s skeleton became a prized exhibit at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. A book containing details of his crime, trial, execution, and dissection was published and retained at the Infirmary. The book was bound with Horwood’s skin.
Apparently, there are even books written on this topic
(—Bouckaert, Albert, “Bookbindings of Human Skin,” Sexology, March 1949, p480-482.
—Blementhal, Walter Hart, Bookmen’s Bedlam: An Olio of Literary Oddities. Rutgers University Press, 1955.
—Goodman, Lee Dana, “He Was bound to Come to a Bad End,” Yankee Magazine, June 1991, p99.
There was an auction of a book with human skin. Yikes. It’s quite creepy actually.
I wouldn’t even want to touch it, forget about owning it. Would you ever own a book made from human skin?