Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. Though uncommon in modern times, the technique dates back to at least the 17th century.

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, and copies of judicial proceedings bound in the skin of the murderer convicted in those proceedings, such as the Red Barn Murder.

The libraries of many Ivy League universities include one or more samples of anthropodermic bibliopegy. The rare book collection at the Langdell Law Library at Harvard University holds a book, Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae, a treaty of Spanish law. 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 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. ”

(The Wavuma are believed to be an African tribe from the region currently known as Zimbabwe.)

The John Hay Library's special books collection at Brown University contains three human-skin books, including a rare copy of De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Vesalius.

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.

It was commonly believed for a time that prominent Nazis, such as Ilsa Koch, had commissioned the creation of items from the skin of victims of the Holocaust, including books and lampshades. The Nazis are definitely known to have taken and preserved individual pieces of skin, chiefly those sections displaying tattoos; several examples of such can be found within the collections of the National Museum of Health and Medicine and the National Archives, although neither institution places these items on display. It is worth further noting that this practice is common across all civilised countries and is not a particular peculiarity of the Nazi regime.

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

Peter Greenaway's 1996 film The Pillow Book contains a sequence in which the body of a writer is exhumed and his skin painstakingly tanned, written upon, and bound into a book.

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