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Anthropodermic bibliopegy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A book bound in the skin of the murderer William Burke, on display in Surgeons' Hall Museum in Edinburgh
A book bound in the skin of the murderer William Burke, on display in Surgeons' Hall Museum in Edinburgh

Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. As of May 2019, The Anthropodermic Book Project[1] has examined 31 out of 50 books in public institutions supposed to have anthropodermic bindings, of which 18 have been confirmed as human and 13 have been demonstrated to be animal leather instead.[2]


'Bibliopegy' (/ˌbɪbliˈɒpɪi/ BIB-lee-OP-i-jee) is a rare[3][a] synonym for 'bookbinding'. It combines the Ancient Greek βιβλίον (biblion, "book") and πηγία (pegia, from pegnynai, "to fasten").[5] The earliest reference in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1876; Merriam-Webster gives the date of first use as c. 1859[6] and the OED records an instance of 'bibliopegist' for a bookbinder from 1824.

The word 'anthropodermic' (/ˌænθrpəˈdɜːrmɪk/ 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 to be unused in contexts other than bookbinding. The phrase "anthropodermic bibliopegy" has been used at least since Lawrence S. Thompson's article on the subject, published in 1946.[7] The practice of binding a book in the skin of its author – as with The Highwayman – has been called 'autoanthropodermic bibliopegy'[8] (from αὐτός, autos, meaning "self").


A 17th-century book on female virginity in the Wellcome Library, rebound in human skin by Dr. Ludovic Bouland around 1865
A 17th-century book on female virginity in the Wellcome Library, rebound in human skin by Dr. Ludovic Bouland around 1865

An early reference to a book bound in human skin is found in the travels of Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach. Writing about his visit to Bremen in 1710:

(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[9]

During the French Revolution, there were rumours that a tannery for human skin had been established at Meudon outside Paris.[10] The Carnavalet Museum owns a volume containing the French Constitution of 1793 and Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen described as 'passing for being made in human skin imitating calf'.[10]

The majority of well-attested anthropodermic bindings date from the 19th century.


Possible human skin binding in the Smithsonian Libraries
Bound in 1863 by Josse Schavye,[11] the same binder of the genuine anthropodermic Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica in Brown University,[12] and who bound at least four books with human leather in his lifetime.[13]
Panel with Latin inscription in the book: Hic liber femineo corio convestitus est ("This book has been bound with the skin of a woman")[14]


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 William Corder in 1828.[15] 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.[16] (Note that Horwood, Corder, and Burke were all hanged and not flayed.)

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 prison 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, and another one for his doctor.[17] Once he died, a piece of his back was taken to a tannery and utilized for the book.[18]

Dance of Death

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;[19] 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[20] 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."[21]

Other examples

Another tradition, with less supporting evidence, is that books of erotica[22][23][24] have been bound in human skin.

A female admirer of the French astronomer Camille Flammarion supposedly bequeathed her skin to bind one of his books. At Flammarion's observatory, there is a copy of his La pluralité des mondes habités on which is stamped reliure en peau humaine 1880 ("human skin binding, 1880").[25] This story is sometimes told instead about Les terres du ciel and the donor named as the Comtesse de Saint-Ange.

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.[26]

The National Library of Australia holds a 19th-century poetry book with the inscription "Bound in human skin" on the first page.[27] The binding was performed 'before 1890' and identified as human skin by pathologists in 1992.[28]

A portion of the binding in the copy of Dale Carnegie's Lincoln the Unknown that is part 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".[29]


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, degrades over time, and can be contaminated by human readers.[30]

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,[31] of which three were bound from the skin of one woman.[32] 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:[33] 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,[34] Des destinées de l'ame by Arsène Houssaye, held in the Houghton Library.[35] (The other two books at Harvard were determined to be bound in sheepskin, the first being Ovid's Metamorphoses,[36] held in the Countway Library, the second being a treatise on Spanish law, Practicarum quaestionum cirva leges regias Hispaniae,[37] held in the library of Harvard Law School.[38])

The Harvard skin book belonged to Dr Ludovic Bouland of Strasbourg (died 1932), who rebound a second, De integritatis & corruptionis virginum notis,[39] 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.

Confirmed examples

Confirmed by peptide mass fingerprinting
Book (sort by year of publication) Location (sort by country) Provenance (sort by year of binding) Binding and photographs
De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius (1568) United States Providence

Brown University, John Hay Library, RARE 1-SIZE QM21 .V37 1568

Bound in 1867 by Josse Schavye of Brussels for the Paris International Exposition
The Dance of death by Hans Holbein (1816) United States Providence

Brown University, John Hay Library, N7720.H6 A43 1816

Bound in 1893 by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf (1853–1930) of London (son of Joseph Zaehnsdorf).
The Dance of death by Hans Holbein (1898) United States Providence

Brown University, John Hay Library, N7720.H6 D5x 1898

Bound between 1898 and 1903[40] 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) (English translation of Mademoiselle Giraud, ma femme, 1870) United States Providence

Brown University, John Hay Library, PQ2193.B7 M313 1891

Recueil des secrets by Louise Bourgeois Boursier (1601) United States Philadelphia

College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Historical Medical Library, Ga 168

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) United States Philadelphia

College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Historical Medical Library, GGa 53b

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) United States Philadelphia

College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Historical Medical Library, GGc 15.1

Bound by Dr John Stockton Hough with the tattooed wrist skin of a man who died at Philadelphia Hospital in 1869[41] Slim book at top right
Speculations on the mode and appearances of impregnation in the human female by Robert Couper (1789) United States Philadelphia

College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Historical Medical Library, GGa 33

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

Image for non-commercial use

Mutter Minute (video): Book Bound in Human Skin

An elementary treatise on human anatomy by Joseph Leidy (1861) United States Philadelphia

College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Historical Medical Library, Ad 14

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)[42] United States New York City

The Grolier Club, Grolier Club Library, \56.3f\Kauf\1868

"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?) United States Cambridge, Massachusetts

Harvard University, Houghton Library, FC8.H8177.879dc

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'. Later given to Houghton Library by John B. Stetson Jr. Front cover
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley (1773)[43] United States Cincinnati, Ohio

University of Cincinnati, Archives & Rare Books Library, PS866 .W5 1773

Given by Bertram Smith of Acres of Books to the Department of Rare Books University of Cincinnati[44] in the 1950s.[45] Dark brown half leather over parchment.[43] One of three copies of Wheatley's work bound by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf (London) in 1934 for the American book dealer and collector Charles F. Heartman (1883–1953).[46]

Preservation Lab Treatment Report and photographs

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley (1773)[43] United States Cincinnati, Ohio

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, 811 W557p

From the Charles F. Heartman Collection of Material Relating to Negro Culture (bookplate).[47][48] Given by Bertram Smith of Acres of Books to the Cincinnati Public Library in 1958.[43] Dark brown full leather.[43] One of three copies of Wheatley's work bound by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf (London) in 1934 for the American book dealer and collector Charles F. Heartman (1883–1953).[46]

Preservation Lab Treatment Report and photographs

Le Scarabée d'or by Edgar Allan Poe (1892) (French edition of The Gold-Bug) France French private collection (2016) Bound by Gustave Rykers of Bruxelles (stamped in gilt inside the front cover (in French): "Relié en Peau Humaine. G. Rykers."(Bound in human skin. G. Rykers)). Sold at auction in 2016[49] to a French private collector.[50] Human skin confirmed in PMF analysis conducted by Dan Kirby in 2018.[51] "brown leather-backed marbled boards, raised bands, decoration of a gold bug descending front the eye-socket of a skull above a crossed sickle and shovel decoration on spine, marbled endpapers, top edge gilt."[49]
Narrative of the Life of James Allen (Boston, Harrington & Co., 1837)[52] · [53] United States Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Athenæum

"Bound by Peter Low in Allen's skin, treated to look like gray deer skin; bears the cover title "Hic liber Waltonis cute compactus est," stamped in gold upon a black leather rectangle."

Digitised version

Essai sur les lieux et les dangers des sépultures by Félix Vicq d'Azyr (1778)[54] Belgium Brussels

Royal Library of Belgium
WBS VI 21.433 A LP (RP)

Bound by Josse Schavye of Brussels (end of 19th century). Sold by Schavye to the Belgian government in 1896 .[55]

Binding decorated with skulls and crossbones.[56]

Human skin binding confirmed in October 2018 by PMF analysis[57] · [58]

Video (in French)

Supposed examples confirmed as animal skin

Confirmed by peptide mass fingerprinting not to be human skin
Book Location Provenance Binding
Opera by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1504) United States Notre Dame, Indiana

University of Notre Dame, Hesburgh Libraries, B 785 .P588 A1 1504

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 [1]
Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniæ by Juan Gutiérrez (1605) United States Cambridge, Massachusetts

Harvard University, Harvard Law School Library, Foreign Treatises G

Supposedly bound in the skin of Jonas Wright, flayed alive in 1632 Sheepskin; Digitised version
Olympe, ou Metamorphose d'Ovide (1597) United States Boston

Harvard University, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, PA6519 .M2 1597

Supposedly bound in human skin according to pencil annotation inside cover Sheepskin
L'idolatrie huguenote by Louis Richeome (1608) United States Memphis

University of Memphis, Ned R. McWherter Library, BR845 .R53x

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) United States Berkeley

University of California, Bancroft Library, t BX2024.A5 F7 1671

Supposedly bound in the skin of a victim of the guillotine during the French Revolution A miniature devotional book 'bound in horse hide, resembling black pebble-grained morocco' (library catalogue record) or a mixture of horse and goat (David Faulds, curator)[59]
Relation des mouvemens de la ville de Messine (1676) United States 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.'[60][61] Sheepskin[62]
Libri IV de intellectu humanu by John Locke (1709) United States 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 United States 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) United States 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)
Bibliotheca by the Pseudo-Apollodorus (Heidelberg: Commelinus, 1599) United States Athens, Georgia

University of Georgia, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Rare Bk PA3870 .A7 1599

Supposedly "bound in human skin, according to note on flyleaf". Sheepskin

Unconfirmed but located examples

Located in institutions and private collections
Book Location Provenance Binding
De integritatis & corruptionis virginum notis by Séverin Pineau and other works (1663) United Kingdom London

Wellcome Library, 41286/A or EPB Bindings 14

Bound in 1865 by Marcellin Lortic of Paris for the bibliophile Dr Ludovic Bouland of Strasbourg with a woman's skin which he had tanned as a medical student; given to the Wellcome by Annabel Geddes, founder of the London Dungeon
Scrutinium scripturarum by Pablo de Santa Maria (Strasbourg: Johann Mentelin, 1470) United States Washington, D.C.

Incun. X .P17 Vollbehr Coll, Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA

Library of Congress, Loan exhibition of incunabula from the Vollbehr Collection (1928), item 103 (page 5)

Identified by the FBI as ox or bull hide (Carolyn Marvin, 'The body of the text: literacy's corporeal constant', Quarterly Journal of Speech 80(2) (1994), pp. 129–149; (subscription required) doi:10.1080/00335639409384064)

A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings Against ... Garnet a Jesuite (London: Robert Barker, 1606) Private collection Sold at auction, 2 December 2007 Photographs
Trinum magicum by Caesar Longinus (Frankfurt: Jakob Gottfried Seyler, 1673) United Kingdom Brighton

156.14 L86, Jubilee Library, Brighton, UK

Exercitatio anatomica de glandula pituitaria by Franz Sebastian Vorster and Johann Conrad von Brunner (Heidelberg: Johann David Bergmann, 1688) United States Kansas City

WZ 250 B8974ee 1688, Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas, Kansas City, USA

'Inscription verso front free endpaper: [ink] De luxe binding of / human skin from the / circus giant "Perky."' (Catalogue)
Ledger in French (18th century) United Kingdom Leeds

Private collection

BBC News, Skin book owners found by police, 10 May 2006
Dissertatio de arteriis et venis intestinorum hominis by Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (Leiden: Dirk Haak, 1736) together with 5 other anatomical illustrations United States Stanford, California

E21H .A325 1736, Lane Medical Library, Stanford University, Stanford, California, US

'Bound in black leather made from human skin; inscription: "Dieses Buch wurde von mir in Menschenhaut gebunden, Berlin, i. Juni, 1910, Paul Kersten."' (Catalogue)

See Charles D. O'Malley, 'Bound in Full Human Skin', Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 8 (October 1953), pp. 447–448 (subscription required, doi:10.1093/jhmas/VIII.October.447)

Anatomy epitomized and illustrated by M.N. (London: John Noon, 1737) United States San Marino, California

618830, Huntington Library

Essai sur l'électricité des corps by Jean-Antoine Nollet (Paris: Frères Guerin, 1746) France Mâcon

40857, Médiathèque municipale de Mâcon, Mâcon, France

(Thompson, Religatum, page 152)
French Constitution (two copies: 1789 and Dijon: Causse, 1793) France Paris

Musée Carnavalet

Thompson, page 94; Libération
Tableau des prisons de Paris by Coissin (Paris: Michel, 1795?) France Nîmes

80986, Carré d'Art Bibliothèques

'Ex Libris : Marcellin Pellet; Reliure en peau humaine.' (Catalogue)
The Horwood Book (miscellaneous papers etc. re case of John Horwood executed for murder, 1821–1828) United Kingdom Bristol

35893/36/v_i, Bristol Record Office

Photograph 'Bound in the skin of John Horwood' (Catalogue) On display at M Shed, Bristol
An Authentic and Faithful History of the Mysterious Murder of Maria Marten by James Curtis (London: Thomas Kelly, 1828) United Kingdom Moyse's Hall Museum, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, UK bound in the skin of William Corder, the murderer
Pocketbook (presumably blank) (1829) United Kingdom Edinburgh

Surgeons' Hall Museum, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Photograph William Burke
The poetical works of Rogers, Campbell, J. Montgomery, Lamb, and Kirke White (Paris: A. & W. Galignani, 1829) Australia Canberra

RB 821.708 ROG, National Library of Australia, Canberra, Australia

Photograph #9 'Pencilled note on front free end paper of EAP copy (in Dewey run) reads : Bound in human skin.' (Catalogue)

See also 'In the Flesh?' for confirmation.

Little poems for little folks by M.S.C. (Philadelphia, Loomis & Peck, 1847) Sold at auction in 1999 (Thompson, Religatum, page 148) exhibited at Harvard in 1933
The Chronicles of Nawat Wuzeer Hyderabad (manuscript, 1848) United States Chicago

Newberry Library, John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing, VAULT Case Wing folio Y 4902 .M27

The poetical works of John Milton (London: William Tegg, 1852) United Kingdom Exeter

s095/DEV/MIL, Westcountry Studies Library

Photograph in BBC News report 'Bound in skin of George Cudmore, hanged for murder, 1830' (Catalogue)
Catalogue des sciences médicales of the Bibliothèque impériale, later Bibliothèque nationale (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1857–1873), two volumes bound in one United States Philadelphia

610B P215, Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

Bound in 1887 by John Stockton Hough: see Carolyn Marvin, 'The body of the text: literacy's corporeal constant', Quarterly Journal of Speech 80(2) (1994), p. 137 (subscription required)doi:10.1080/00335639409384064 – or the newspaper clipping at Odd Book Bindings-Human Skin Used to Bind a Collection of Medical Books (Los Angeles Herald, May 29, 1904) Sold by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1901: see Anthropodermic Book-bindings, p. 87
Koran (Bombay, 1867?) United States Cleveland

John G. White Collection, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, Ohio, US

Les terres du ciel by Camille Flammarion (Paris: Didier, 1877) France Private collection, France Photograph Bound in 1882
La pluralité des mondes habités by Camille Flammarion (Paris: Didier, 1880) France L’observatoire Camille Flammarion, Juvisy-sur-Orge, France Photograph citation
Odes d'Horace translated by Henri Patin (Paris: Charpentier, 1883) France

RES A 0360, Médiatheque Pierre Amalric, Albi, France

'Exemplaire relié avec de la peau humaine prise à l'amphithéâtre de médecine de la faculté de Toulouse en décembre 1883'
Lincoln, the Unknown by Dale Carnegie (New York: Century, 1932) United States Philadelphia

E457.C28 1932, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA

Recueil de documents concernant Rambert et Mailly compiled by Jean Lacassagne (bound in 1935 with Rambert's tattoo) France Philippe Zoummeroff collection Digitised version
Chirurgia by Nicetas (Paris: Pierre Gaultier, 1544) United States Washington, D.C. RD30 .N53 1544 folio, Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Digitised version suspected not human skin
Notebook (Boston, between 1770 and 1800) United Kingdom London

EPB Special Bindings, Wellcome Library

Photograph 'The cover of this book is made of Tanned Skin of the Negro whose Execution caused the War of Independence' (tag) 'Originally thought to be an example of anthropodermic bibliopegy (human skin binding). This is now known to be false.' (Catalogue)
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1640?) United Kingdom Bath

Bath Central Library

blog post

'First English edn of Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1554 [sic]) bound in human skin' cited in Karen Attar (ed.), Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (3rd edition, 2016), p. 9

Opuscules philosophiques et littéraires by J.B.A. Suard (1796) Rigby Graham article, page 16 Bound by a binder from the Derome family
Aur. Corn. Celsi De medicina libri octo (1722) Canada Edmonton

R 127 C39 1722, Bruce Peel Special Collections, University of Alberta

Photograph 'The most infamous book in the JW Scott Health Sciences Library's Rawlinson Rare Book Collection is the "Celsi de medicina libri octo". Published in 1722, this is the book that is purported to be bound in human skin.'
New Testament in Chinese [1866] United States Philadelphia (Penn.), American Philosophical Society Library, 225.595 N425 Probably printed at the Methodist Episcopal Missionary Press at Foochow. Previously owned by Robert Cornelius V. Meyers of West Philadelphia. Exhibited in 2005 with the comment : "Rebound in human skin before 1918."[63] Note in APS catalog (MARC view) : "This book is from China and bound in human skin."

Image of the bookbinding

Ethical and legal issues

In popular culture

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."[64]
  • In David H. Keller's short story "Binding Deluxe", first published in Marvel Tales (May 1934),[65][66] 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.[67]
  • 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 (2014) 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.
  • In Trudi Canavan's novel Thief’s Magic, a protagonist discovers a magical book made by a powerful sorcerer with skin, hair, bones and tendons from a talented bookbinder[68]
  • In I Am Providence (2016) by Nick Mamatas, a book bound in human skin, whose owner is murdered, propels the plot.[69]

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 one episode of Truth Seekers (2020), a prologue scene depicts a sequence where a publisher is killed over the possession of pages of "Praecepta Mortuorum", a book written on sun-dried human skin.

Video games

  • In the video game Shadow Hearts (2001), one of the characters is able to use a book bound from human skin as a weapon.[70]
  • 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.
  • In The Elder Scrolls, The Oghma Infinitum is a artifact of the deity known as "Herma-Mora", It is a book bound in human skin.


  1. ^ 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.'[4]


  1. ^ "The Anthropodermic Book Project". The Anthropodermic Book Project. Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  2. ^ The Anthropodermic Books Project, home page, checked 18 July 2019. Megan Rosenbloom clarifies in this interview with Joanna Ebenstein in The Morbid Anatomy Online Journal, 16 April 2020, that these figures do not include books tested from individuals' private collections, as opposed to libraries and museums.
  3. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer".
  4. ^ OED entry for bibliopegy, checked 1 September 2016.
  5. ^ OED entry for bibliopegy, checked 9 September 2016.
  6. ^ Merriam-Webster definition for bibliopegy, checked 9 September 2016.
  7. ^ Thompson 1946.
  8. ^ Thompson 1968, pp. 140–142.
  9. ^ Thompson 1968, p. 135.
  10. ^ a b Rosenbloom, Lapham's Quarterly.
  11. ^ "Chirurgia è Graeco in Latinum conuersa". Smithsonian Libraries – Catalog. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  12. ^ Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica. Classic Josiah Brown University Library Catalog. Apud Franciscum Franciscium Senensem, & Ioannem Criegher Germanum. 1568. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  13. ^ Sorgeloos 2012, p. 135–137.
  14. ^ "This may seem like a morbid question, but I'm curious. Does the Smithsonian have any books bound in human skin in its collection?". Turning the Book Wheel : Tumblr's blog of the Smithsonian Libraries. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  15. ^ "Killer cremated after 180 years". BBC News. 17 August 2004. Retrieved 4 July 2007.
  16. ^ "Pocketbook made from Burke's skin – Surgeons' Hall Museums, Edinburgh". Archived from the original on October 10, 2016.
  17. ^ 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 Library Catalog.
  18. ^ Boston Athenaem Skin Book. (2020). Atlas Obscura. Retrieved from
  19. ^ 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, [1903]), exhibits 177–179 (pp. 58–59).
  20. ^ Callum James, Leonard Smithers: Human Skin Binding, Front Free Endpaper (May 27, 2009)
  21. ^ Hertzberg, Edward (1933). Forty-four years as a bookbinder. Chicago: Ernst Hertzberg and Sons Monastery Hill Bindery. p. 43.
  22. ^ Thompson 1946, p. 98.
  23. ^ Graham 1965, pp. 16–17.
  24. ^ Joanna Ebenstein, Interview with Megan Rosenbloom, The Morbid Anatomy Online Journal (April 16, 2020): 'everyone knows about de Sade: Justine, and Juliette, but I can't find any actual Justine and Juliette anywhere in an actual public library, so if it exists at all it's probably in a private collection'
  25. ^ Aymard, Colette; Mayeur, Laurence-Anne (2016). "L'observatoire de Juvisy-sur-Orge, l'" univers d'un chercheur " à sauvegarder" [The Juvisy-sur-Orge observatory, a 'world of research' worthy of protection]. In situ: Revue des patrimoines (in French). 29 (29). doi:10.4000/insitu.13211.
  26. ^ "Time Traveler's Wife – Newberry". Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  27. ^ "Poems bound up in a human skin". Canberra Times. 8 August 2011. Archived from the original on 10 March 2016.
  28. ^ Gordon 2016, p. 122.
  29. ^ 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
  30. ^ The Anthropodermic Book Project, The Science, checked 13 September 2016.
  31. ^ Beth Lander, Fugitive Leaves
  32. ^ Beth Lander, The Skin She Lived In: Anthropodermic Books in the Historical Medical Library
  33. ^ John Hay Library.Frequently Asked Questions: Is it true the John Hay Library has books bound in human skin?
  34. ^
  35. ^ Cole, Heather. "Caveat Lecter", Houghton Library Blog. June 4, 2014.
  36. ^
  37. ^ Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ Pineau, Séverin; Bonacciuoli, Luigi; Platter, Felix; Gassendi, Pierre; Sebisch, Melchior (October 30, 1663). I. Sever. Pinaei De integritatis & corruptionis virginum notis: graviditate item & partu naturali mulierum, opuscula. II. Ludov. Bonacioli Enneas muliebris. III. Fel. Plateri De origine partium, earumque in utero conformatione. IV. Petri Gassendi De septo cordis pervio, observatio. V. Melchioris Sebizii De notis virginitatis. J. Ravestein – via
  40. ^ Gordon 2016, p. 129.
  41. ^ Marvin 1994.
  42. ^ Grolier Club Library Catalogue Item Details, Marc Record only : "Human skin confirmed in Peptide Mass Fingerprinting analysis conducted by Dan Kirby Analytical Services"
  43. ^ a b c d e Schieszer, Ashleigh (30 November 2017). "Anthropodermic Bibliopegy, aka Human Skin Bindings". The Preservation Lab Blog. Preservation Lab. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  44. ^ 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"
  45. ^ Goldschmidt, Ben (2013-10-23). "Rare Books Library home to skin-bound book". The News Record. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  46. ^ a b Rosenbloom 2020, pp. 106–108.
  47. ^ Schieszer, Ashleigh (2015), Poems on various subjects, religious and moral : Preservation Lab ‐ Examination and Treatment Report, p. 6 (image of the bookplate)
  48. ^ Rosenbloom 2020, p. 106.
  49. ^ a b "Lot 312 of 461: Poe's Gold Bug perhaps in human skin". PBA Galleries (Catalogue of Sale 592: Fine Books – Children's Literature & Illustrated Books – Counterculture Memorabilia, 08/11/2016). 2016. Retrieved 10 September 2018..
  50. ^ "Une histoire inédite de Poe: scarabée d'or et reliure en peau humaine". (in French). 5 September 2017. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  51. ^ ""Pour en finir" avec les reliures en peau humaine? Epilogue". (in French). 9 July 2018. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  52. ^ Colby, Christine (2 June 2016). "7 Times The Skin Of Executed Criminals Was Used To Bind Books". Crimefeed. Retrieved 9 December 2021. Rosenbloom [Megan Rosenbloom, member of the Anthropodermic Book Project] says the Allen book has been verified as definitely bound in human flesh.
  53. ^ "HBM115: Bound in Walton et al". Here Be Monsters. 2019-03-27. Retrieved 2019-04-27. (Interview with Dawn Walus, Chief Conservator at the Boston Athenæum about the book.
  54. ^ French translation of Saggio intorno al luogo del seppellire (1774) by Scipione Piattoli. English translation of Vicq d'Azyr's book : An essay on the danger of interments in cities (New-York : William Grattan, 1824).
  55. ^ Sorgeloos 2012, pp. 135, 144–145, 155 (#45), 165 (ill. 44).
  56. ^ Sorgeloos 2012, p. 135, 155 (#45).
  57. ^ Royal Library of Belgium (11 October 2018). "Une reliure en peau humaine ?" [A Human Skin Bookbinding ?]. Facebook (in French). Retrieved 15 December 2018. (Video by the Royal Library of Belgium on its official Facebook page, presenting the book and announcing the shipping of leather fragment samples to "an American Lab" for testing.). Also available on Youtube on the official channel of KRB, 10 October 2018.
  58. ^ Royal Library of Belgium (31 October 2018). "Announcement of PMF results by the Royal Library of Belgium on the official Facebook page". Facebook (in French). Retrieved 15 December 2018. Les analyses viennent d’arriver : il ne s’agit ni de mouton, ni d’un autre animal couramment utilisé pour les reliures, mais bien de peau humaine. (The analyzes just arrived: it is neither sheep nor another animal commonly used for bindings, but human skin.); Royal Library of Belgium (2018). "Un livre relié en peau humaine ?" [A Human Skin Bookbinding ?]. Youtube (in French). Retrieved 10 January 2019. Il s’agit bien de peau humaine. (This is human skin.).
  59. ^ The Daily Californian, The truth of the human skin-bound book (video))
  60. ^ Jade Alburo, Scary Books from YRL, 31 October 2012
  61. ^ UCLA library catalogue, call number DG975.M532 R2 1676
  62. ^ Metzger, Consuela. "Human Skin Binding at UCLA? Say it's not so..." UCLA Library: Preservation Blog. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  63. ^ "Treasures Revealed: 260 Years of Collecting at the American Philosophical Society". American Philosophical Society. Archived from the original on 19 September 2020. Retrieved 26 February 2021.. Click on the image "The New Testament, 1866" to see the caption.
  64. ^ H.P. Lovecraft, Dagon & Other Macabre Tales. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1965, p. 153
  65. ^ "Binding Deluxe". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  66. ^ Revised version (1943) * "Bindings Deluxe". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  67. ^ 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.
  68. ^ Canavan, Trudi (2014). Thief's Magic. Millennium's Rule (Book 1). Orbit. ISBN 978-0316209274. My cover and pages are my skin. My binding is my hair, twisted together and sewn with needles fashioned from my bones and glue from tendons.
  69. ^ Pedersen, Nate (2016-09-08). ""I Am Providence": An Interview with Nick Mamatas". The Fine Books Blog. Fine Books & Collections. Retrieved 2018-12-23..
  70. ^ "Shadow Hearts – Equipment List – PlayStation 2 – By leonia19". Retrieved 2020-03-27.

Further reading

To use with caution

External links

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