Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. As of April 2016, The Anthropodermic Book Project "has identified 47 alleged anthropodermic books in the world's libraries and museums. Of those, 30 books have been tested or are in the process of being tested. Seventeen of the books have been confirmed as having human skin bindings and nine were proven to be not of human origin but of sheep, pig, cow, or other animals." (The confirmed figures as of August 2017 have increased to 18 bindings identified as human and 14 disproved.)
Bibliopegy (// BIB-lee-OP-i-jee) is a rare synonym for bookbinding. It combines the Ancient Greek βιβλίον (biblion = book) and πηγία (pegia, from pegnynai = to fasten). The earliest reference in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1876; Merriam-Webster gives the date of first use as circa 1859 and the OED records an instance of bibliopegist for a bookbinder from 1824.
The word anthropodermic (// AN-throh-pə-DUR-mik), combining the Ancient Greek ἄνθρωπος (anthropos = man or human) and δέρμα (derma = skin), does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary and appears never to be used in contexts other than bookbinding. The practice of binding a book in the skin of its author - as with The Highwayman, discussed below - has been called 'autoanthropodermic bibliopegy' (from αὐτός autos, self).
One of the earliest examples of a binding claimed to be in human skin is the account published in 1606 of the execution of Henry Garnet for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings Against ... Garnet a Jesuit. A copy auctioned in 2007 was claimed by the auctioneer to be bound in Garnet's own skin.
Auch sahen wir noch ein klein Büchelgen in Duodetz, Molleri manuale præparationis ad mortem. Man würde daran wohl nichts merkwürdiges finden, und warum es allhier stehe, erkennen, wenn man nicht vornen läse, daß es in Menschen-Leder eingebunden sey; welcher sonderbare Band, desgleichen ich noch nie gesehen, sich zu diesem Buche, zu besserer Betrachtung des Todes, wohl schicket. Man sollte es wohl vor Schwein-Leder ansehen.— Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach, Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland
(We also saw a little duodecimo, Molleri manuale præparationis ad mortem. There seemed to be nothing remarkable about it, and you couldn't understand why it was here until you read in the front that it was bound in human leather. This unusual binding, the like of which I had never before seen, seemed especially well adapted to this book, dedicated to more meditation about death. You would take it for pig skin.)— translated by Lawrence S. Thompson, Religatum de Pelle Humana
During the French Revolution, there were rumours that a tannery for human skin had been established at Meudon outside Paris. The Carnavalet Museum owns a volume containing the French Constitution of 1793 and Declaration of the Rights of Man described as 'passing for being made in human skin imitating calf'.
The majority of well-attested anthropodermic bindings date from the 19th century.
Surviving examples of human skin bindings have often been commissioned, performed, or collected by medical doctors, who have access to cadavers, sometimes those of executed criminals, such as the case of John Horwood in 1821 and the Red Barn Murder in 1828. Another tradition, with less supporting evidence, is that books of erotica:98 or the occult have been bound in human skin.
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh preserves a notebook bound in the skin of the murderer William Burke after his execution and subsequent public dissection by Professor Alexander Monro in 1829.
What Lawrence Thompson called "the most famous of all anthropodermic bindings" is exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, titled The Highwayman: Narrative of the Life of James Allen alias George Walton. It is by James Allen, who made his deathbed confession in 1837 and asked for a copy bound in his own skin to be presented to a man he once tried to rob and admired for his bravery.
The Newberry Library in Chicago owns an Arabic manuscript written in 1848, with a handwritten note that it is bound in human skin, though "it is the opinion of the conservation staff that the binding material is not human skin, but rather highly burnished goat". This book is mentioned in the novel The Time Traveler's Wife, much of which is set in the Newberry.
A portion of the binding in the copy of Dale Carnegie's Lincoln the Unknown 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".
An exhibition of fine bindings at the Grolier Club in 1903 included, in a section of 'Bindings in Curious Materials', three editions of Holbein's 'Dance of Death' in 19th century human skin bindings; two of these now belong to the John Hay Library at Brown University. Other examples of the Dance of Death include an 1856 edition offered at auction by Leonard Smithers in 1895 and an 1842 edition from the personal library of Florin Abelès was offered at auction by Piasa of Paris in 2006. 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."
The identification of human skin bindings has been attempted by examining the pattern of hair follicles, to distinguish human skin from that of other animals typically used for bookbinding, such as calf, sheep, goat, and pig. This is a necessarily subjective test, made harder by the distortions in the process of treating leather for binding. Testing a DNA sample is possible in principle, but DNA can be destroyed when skin is tanned, it degrades over time, and it can be contaminated by human readers.
Instead, peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF) and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) have recently been used to identify the material of bookbindings. A tiny sample is extracted from the book's covering and the collagen analysed by mass spectrometry to identify the variety of proteins which are characteristic of different species. PMF can identify skin as belonging to a primate; since monkeys were almost never used as a source of skin for bindings, this implies human skin.
The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia owns five anthropodermic books, confirmed by peptide mass fingerprinting in 2015, of which three were bound from the skin of one woman. This makes it the largest collection of such books in one institution. The books can be seen in the associated Mütter Museum.
The John Hay Library at Brown University owns four anthropodermic books, also confirmed by PMF: Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica, two nineteenth-century editions of Holbein's Dance of Death, and Mademoiselle Giraud, My Wife (1891).
Three books in the libraries of Harvard University have been reputed to be bound in human skin, but peptide mass fingerprinting has confirmed only one, Des destinées de l'ame by Arsène Houssaye, held in the Houghton Library. (The other two books at Harvard were determined to be bound in sheepskin, the first being Ovid's Metamorphoses held in the Countway Library, the second being a treatise on Spanish law, Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae, held in the library of Harvard Law School.)
The Harvard skin book belonged to Dr Ludovic Bouland of Strasbourg, who owned a second, De integritatis & corruptionis virginum notis, now in the Wellcome Library in London. The Wellcome also owns a notebook labelled as bound in the skin of 'the Negro whose Execution caused the War of Independence', presumably Crispus Attucks, but the library doubts that it is actually human skin.
Peptide mass fingerprinting was also used to determine the binding material for a miniature devotional book in the University of California's Bancroft Library, L'office de l'Eglise en françois. It is now known not to be bound in human skin but horse hide, or a mixture of horse and goatskin.
|De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius (1568)||Providence||Bound in 1867 by J. Schavye of Brussels for the Paris International Exposition|
|The dance of death by Hans Holbein (1816)||Providence||Bound in 1893 by Zaehnsdorf of London|
|The dance of death by Hans Holbein (1898)||Providence||Bound by Alfred J. Cox (1835-1909) of Chicago and owned by Harry Selfridge||Decorated with arrows, death's heads, and knucklebones|
|Mademoiselle Giraud, my wife by Adolphe Belot (1891)||Providence|
|Recueil des secrets by Louise Bourgeois Boursier (1635)||Philadelphia||Bound in 1887 by Dr John Stockton Hough with skin he had removed from the thigh of Mary Lynch, who died in 1869 of trichinosis in Blockley Almshouse, Philadelphia||Photograph (left)|
|Les nouvelles découvertes sur toutes les parties principales de l'homme, et de la femme by Louis Barles (1680)||Philadelphia||Bound in 1887 by Dr John Stockton Hough with skin he had removed from the thigh of Mary Lynch, who died in 1869 of trichinosis in Blockley Almshouse, Philadelphia||Photograph (right)|
|De conceptione adversaria by Charles Drelincourt (1686)||Philadelphia||Bound by Dr John Stockton Hough with the tattooed wrist skin of a man who died at Philadelphia Hospital in 1869||Slim book at top right|
|Speculations on the mode and appearances of impregnation in the human female by Robert Couper (1789)||Philadelphia||Bound in 1887 by Dr John Stockton Hough with skin he had removed from the thigh of Mary Lynch, who died in 1869 of trichinosis in Blockley Almshouse, Philadelphia||Binding and testimonial|
|An elementary treatise on human anatomy by Joseph Leidy (1861)||Philadelphia||Joseph Leidy's own copy, with his note: 'The leather with which this book is bound is human skin, from a soldier who died during the great Southern Rebellion.'||Photograph (red spine label)|
|Le traicté de peyne (1868)||New York City||"Bound by Kauffmann-Petit (and signed by [Léon] Maillard)"; Samuel Putnam Avery's copy||"bound by Kauffmann-Petit (...) in human skin, tooled in black on spine and covers; gilt turn-ins; marbled endpapers".|
|Des destinées de l'ame by Arsène Houssaye (1880?)||Cambridge, Massachusetts||Presented by Arsène Houssaye to the bibliophile Dr Ludovic Bouland of Strasbourg, who bound it in skin which he had removed from 'the back of the unclaimed body of a woman patient in a French mental hospital who died suddenly of apoplexy'||Front cover|
|Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley (1773)||Cincinnati, Ohio||Given by Bert Smith of Acres of Books to the Department of Rare Books University of Cincinnati in the 1950s.||Dark brown half leather over parchment, apparently by the same binder as the Cincinnati Public Library's copy, presumed to be Zaehnsdorf.|
|Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley (1773)||Cincinnati, Ohio||Given by Bert Smith of Acres of Books to the Cincinnati Public Library in 1958.||Dark brown full leather, apparently by the same binder as the University of Cincinnati's copy, i.e. Zaehnsdorf.|
Supposed examples confirmed as animal skin
|Opera by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1504)||Notre Dame, Indiana||Supposedly bound in the skin of a 'Moorish chieftain' for Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros and presented to Christopher Columbus (see John Nagy, 'The truth uncovered', Notre Dame Magazine, Spring 2016)||Pigskin; see also |
|Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniæ by Juan Gutiérrez (1605)||Cambridge, Massachusetts||Supposedly bound in the skin of Jonas Wright, flayed alive in 1632||sheepskin; Digitised version|
|Olympe, ou Metamorphose d'Ovide (1597)||Boston||Supposedly bound in human skin according to pencil annotation inside cover||Sheepskin|
|L'idolatrie huguenote by Louis Richeome (1608)||Memphis||Supposedly bound in human skin according to bookseller (see Perry Neil Harrison, 'On the Binding of the University of Memphis' L'idolatrie Huguenote', Notes and Queries 62(4) (2015) 589-591; subscription required)||Sheepskin|
|L'office de l'Eglise en françois (1671)||Berkeley||Supposedly bound in the skin of a victim of the guillotine during the French Revolution||'Bound in horse hide' (library catalogue record) or a mixture of pig/horse (The Daily Californian, The truth of the human skin-bound book (video))|
|Relation des mouvemens de la ville de Messine (1676)|| Los Angeles
Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, DG975.M532 R2 1676
|Note believed to be in the handwriting of former owner James Westfall Thompson: 'The binding is human skin. The book is from the library of Armand Jerome Bignon (1711-72), librarian of Louis XV.'||Sheepskin|
|Libri IV de intellectu humanu by John Locke (1709)|| Philadelphia
College of Physicians of Philadelphia, BF 441 L814e 1709
|'Cattle hide' according to Rosenbloom in Lapham's Quarterly|
|Bibliotheca politica (1691-1694) by James Tyrrell|| Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
Juniata College, Beeghly Library
|Supposedly bound in human skin according to a note in the hand of donor Abraham H. Cassel||Sheepskin|
|El largo viaje by Tere Medina (1972)|| Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania
Slippery Rock University, Bailey Library, FOL PQ7298.23 .E3 L3
|Supposedly bound in skin tanned commercially by the 'Aguadilla tribe of the Mayaguez Plateau'||'Very convincing faux leather' (library catalogue record)|
Ethical and legal issues
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (September 2016)
- Repatriation and reburial of human remains
- Human trophy collecting
- Human Tissue Act 2004 (United Kingdom)
- Paul Needham, A Binding of Human Skin in the Houghton Library: A Recommendation (25 June 2014)
The binding of books in human skin is also a common element within horror films and works of fiction.
- In H.P. Lovecraft's horror story 'The Hound' (1922), 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."
- In David H. Keller's short story "Binding Deluxe", first published in Marvel Tales (May 1934), a bookbinder uses the skins of the men she murders to create a "deluxe" binding for a set of Encyclopædia Britannica.
- In Brian Lumley's story 'Billy's Oak' (1970), a book, the Cthaat Aquadingen, is bound in human skin. Although over 400 years old, it still sweats.
- P. C. Hodgell's Kencyr series (1982 onwards) features "the Book Bound in Pale Leather", which appears to be bound in living human skin.
- Chuck Palahniuk's novel Lullaby (2002) features a book bound in human skin called "The Grimoire".
- In the novel The Journal of Dora Damage (2008) by Belinda Starling, a bookbinder is brought "leather" by a client with which to undertake a "special binding" of this nature.
- In Linda Fairstein's mystery novel Lethal Legacy (2009), a book collector shows investigators an 1828 book of trial proceedings that is bound with the skin of a convicted murderer.
- In the novel The Eye of God (2013) by James Rollins, Vigor receives a package from Father Josip Tarasco that contains a skull and an ancient book bound in human skin.
- In “The Book Of Life” by Deborah Harkness( the final book in the A Discovery of Witches trilogy) the book is made entirely of human / creature materials including the binding, ink, and paper.
Television and cinema
- In the Evil Dead series of films and comic books originally created by Sam Raimi in 1981, a fictional Sumerian book called the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis is bound in human skin and inked with human blood.
- In the Disney film Hocus Pocus (1993), 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.
- 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.
- The eponymous book in the Canadian television series Todd and the Book of Pure Evil (2010) is allegedly bound in human skin.
- In the episode "Like a Virgin" (2011) of the TV series Supernatural, the book containing the spell to release the Mother of All is printed (rather than bound) on human skin.
- In the video game Shadow Hearts (2001), one of the characters is able to use a book bound from human skin as a weapon.
- The video game Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (2002) centers around a book called the "Tome of Eternal Darkness" which is bound in human flesh.
- The video game "Assassin's Creed Unity" (2014) features the practice of binding books in human skins in a mission set in 18th century Franciade.
- Megan Rosenbloom, A Book by its Cover: Identifying & Scientifically Testing the World's Books Bound in Human Skin, Watermark: Newsletter of the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences, volume XXXIX, number 3 (Summer 2016), page 22
- The Anthropodermic Books Project, home page, checked 7 September 2017.
- Google Ngrams Viewer for bibliopegy
- The Oxford English Dictionary places it in Frequency Band 2, for 'words which occur fewer than 0.01 times per million words in typical modern English usage. These are almost exclusively terms which are not part of normal discourse and would be unknown to most people. Many are technical terms from specialized discourses.' OED entry for bibliopegy, checked 1 September 2016.
- OED entry for bibliopegy, checked 9 September 2016.
- Merriam-Webster definition for bibliopegy, checked 9 September 2016.
- Thompson, Religatum de Pelle Humana, pages 140-142
- Jeremy Dibbell, Garnet Book Images PhiloBiblos, 28 November 2007.
- "MDZ-Reader - Band - Herrn Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland / Uffenbach, Zacharias Konrad von - Herrn Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland / Uffenbach, Zacharias Konrad von". reader.digitale-sammlungen.de. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
- Thompson, Religatum de Pelle Humana, page 135
- Rosenbloom, Lapham's Quarterly.
- Rosenbloom, Lapham's Quarterly.
- "Killer cremated after 180 years". BBC News. 17 August 2004. Retrieved 4 July 2007.
- Thompson, Lawrence (April 1946). Human Skin. v.34(2). Bulletin of the Medical Library Association.
- Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh Archived 2016-09-06 at WebCite
- Allen, James; Lincoln, Charles; Low Peter (25 August 2017). "Narrative of the life of James Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman: being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison [i.e. Charles Lincoln, Jr.]". Harrington & Co. Retrieved 25 August 2017 – via catalog.bostonathenaeum.org Library Catalog.
- "Time Traveler's Wife - Newberry". www.newberry.org. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
- "Books Bound in Human Skin; Lampshade Myth? - The Harvard Law Record". hlrecord.org. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
- 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
- "Poems bound up in a human skin". Canberra Times. 8 August 2011.
- The Grolier Club of the City of New York. Exhibition of silver, embroidered and curious bookbindings, April 16 to May 9, 1903 ([New York City]: The De Vinne Press, ), exhibits 177-179 (pages 58-59).
- Callum James, Leonard Smithers: Human Skin Binding, Front Free Endpaper (May 27, 2009)
- Hertzberg, Edward (1933). Forty-four years as a bookbinder. Chicago: Ernst Hertzberg and Sons Monastery Hill Bindery. p. 43.
- The Anthropodermic Book Project, The Science, checked 13 September 2016.
- Beth Lander, Fugitive Leaves
- Beth Lander, The Skin She Lived In: Anthropodermic Books in the Historical Medical Library
- John Hay Library.Frequently Asked Questions: Is it true the John Hay Library has books bound in human skin?
- Cole, Heather. "Caveat Lecter", Houghton Library Blog. June 4, 2014.
- 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.
- Summer myth-busters tackle campus tall tales, Berkeley News.
- Carolyn Marvin, 'The body of the text: literacy's corporeal constant', Quarterly Journal of Speech 80(2) (1994), page 137
- Grolier Club Library Catalogue Item Details, Marc Record only : "Human skin confirmed in Peptide Mass Fingerprinting analysis conducted by Dan Kirby Analytical Services"
- Schieszer, Ashleigh (30 November 2017). "Anthropodermic Bibliopegy, aka Human Skin Bindings". The Preservation Lab Blog. Preservation Lab. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
- Schieszer, Ashleigh (2015), Poems on various subjects, religious and moral : Preservation Lab Treatment Report, Preservation Lab, p. 1: "There is a leather gold stamped label adhered to the pastedown that reads, "Given to the Department of Rare Books University of Cincinnati by Bert Smith's Acres of Books"
- Goldschmidt, Ben (2013-10-23). "Rare Books Library home to skin-bound book". The News Record. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
- Jade Alburo, Scary Books from YRL, 31 October 2012
- UCLA library catalogue, call number DG975.M532 R2 1676
- Metzger, Consuela. "Human Skin Binding at UCLA? Say it's not so…". UCLA Library: Preservation Blog. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
- H.P. Lovecraft, Dagon & Other Macabre Tales. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1965, p. 153
- 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.
- "Alice's ultimate weapon "The Holy Book of Flesh" is said to be bound from human skin". Judgement-Ring.com.
- The Anthropodermic Book Project
- Jim Chevallier, 'Human Skin: Books (In and On)', Sundries: An Eighteenth Century Newsletter, #26 (April 15, 2006)
- Anita Dalton, Anthropodermic Bibliopegy: A Flay on Words, Odd Things Considered, 9 November 2015
- Jacob Gordon, In the Flesh? Anthropodermic Bibliopegy Verification and Its Implications, RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 17(2) (2016), pages 118-133
- Harrison, Perry Neil (2017). "Anthropodermic Bibliopegy in the Early Modern Period". In Larissa Tracy. Flaying in the Pre-Modern World : Practice and Representation. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: D.S. Brewer. pp. 366–383. ISBN 9781843844525.
- Carolyn Marvin, 'The body of the text: literacy's corporeal constant', Quarterly Journal of Speech 80(2) (1994), pages 129-149 (subscription required)
- Megan Rosenbloom, A Book by its Cover: Identifying & Scientifically Testing the World's Books Bound in Human Skin, Watermark: Newsletter of the Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences, 39(3) (Summer 2016), pages 20–22
- Megan Rosenbloom, A Book by its Cover, Lapham's Quarterly volume IX, number 4 (Fall 2016), 'Flesh', posted 19 October 2016
- Smith, Daniel K. (2014). "Bound In Human Skin: A Survey of Examples of Anthropodermic Bibliopegy". In Joanna Ebenstein, Colin Dickey (eds.). The Morbid Anatomy Anthology (First ed.). Brooklyn, New York: Morbid Anatomy Press. ISBN 9780989394307.
- Lawrence S. Thompson, Tanned Human Skin, Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 34(2) (April 1946), pages 93–102
- Lawrence S. Thompson, Religatum de Pelle Humana, in Bibliologia Comica (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1968), pages 119-160 (originally issued separately in 1949 as University of Kentucky Libraries Occasional Contributions no. 6)