Books bound in human skin
Leather-bound books are always lovely. But when that leather is human skin -- that's creepy, right? But it's not unheard of -- in fact, the practice of binding books in human skin was once common enough to get its own name: Anthropodermic bibliopegy.
It's not done these days, but the books are still around. They surface in museums and can be found resting on library shelves. One (secondhand) story appeared in the blog of the scholarly International Journal of the Book today:
And the book "Aurora Alegre del dichoso dia de la Gracia Maria Santissima Digna Madre de Dios," bound in human skin, is up for sale at Abebooks. Written by Joseph Bernardo de Hogal, it's listed for more than $16,000; it was last owned by an American acrobat-turned-mystic. And according to the listing information, he received it as a gift.
Some say that the practice was popular for court reports of crime covered in the skin of the murderer. But there have been other kinds of books bound in skin, too, including a 1676 French prayer book that's at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. And a human-skin bound ledger was found in downtown Leeds, England, in 2006 -- apparently it was dropped by a burglar. You think he realized what kind of ghastly artifact he was carrying?
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: The spine of "Human Corpis Fabrica" by And. Vesalii, bound in human skin, at Brown University's John Hay Library. Credit: Joe Giblin / Associated Press