Harvard Book Is Indeed Bound in Human Skin

French poet gave book to friend

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 5, 2014 1:17 AM CDT | Updated Jun 5, 2014 3:00 AM CDT
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(Newser) – Harvard has confirmed a creepy find in its Houghton Library: A 19th-century book about the soul is bound in human skin. Tests revealed that French poet's Arsène Houssaye’s Des Destinées de l'AmeThe Destiny of the Soul—really does have a human binding, backing up the author's claim in the inscription that it had been bound in skin taken from the back of a female mental patient who died of a stroke, the Washington Post reports. "By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin," Houssaye wrote in the volume he presented to a friend. "A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering."

Testing in Harvard labs revealed that another book thought to have been bound in human skin was actually bound in sheepskin, despite an inscription reading, "The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632," the Atlantic finds. Revolting as it may seem today, the binding of books in human skins, a practice called "anthropodermic bibliopegy," was once fairly common, the library's blog notes, explaining that "the confessions of criminals were occasionally bound in the skin of the convicted, or an individual might request to be memorialized for family or lovers in the form of a book."

By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin, the author wrote to his friend.
"By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin," the author wrote to his friend.   (Harvard, Houghton Library)
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