Warning

 

Close

Confirm Action

Are you sure you wish to do this?

Confirm Cancel
Member Login
Posted: 1/8/2006 5:46:08 PM EDT

Some of nation's best libraries have books bound in human skin
http://www.boston.com/news/local/rhode_island/articles/2006/01/07/some_of_nations_best_libraries_have_books_bound_in_human_skin?mode=PF
By M.L. Johnson, Associated Press Writer | January 7, 2006

PROVIDENCE, R.I. --Brown University's library boasts an unusual anatomy book. Tanned and polished to a smooth golden brown, its cover looks and feels no different from any other fine leather.

But here's its secret: the book is bound in human skin.

A number of prestigious libraries -- including Harvard University's -- have such books in their collections. While the idea of making leather from human skin seems bizarre and cruel today, it was not uncommon in centuries past, said Laura Hartman, a rare book cataloger at the National Library of Medicine in Maryland and author of a paper on the subject.

An article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from the late 1800s "suggests that it was common, but it also indicates it wasn't talked about in polite society," Hartman said.

The best libraries then belonged to private collectors. Some were doctors who had access to skin from amputated parts and patients whose bodies were not claimed. They found human leather to be relatively cheap, durable and waterproof, Hartman said.

In other cases, wealthy bibliophiles may have acquired the skin from criminals who were executed, cadavers used in medical schools and people who died in the poor house, said Sam Streit, director of Brown's John Hay Library.

The library has three books bound in human skin -- the anatomy text and two 19th century editions of "The Dance of Death," a medieval morality tale.

One copy of "The Dance of Death" dates to 1816 but was rebound in 1893 by Joseph Zaehnsdorf, a master binder in London. A note to his client reports that he did not have enough skin and had to split it. The front cover, bound in the outer layer of the epidermis, has a slightly bumpy texture, like soft sandpaper. The spine and back cover, made from the inner layer of skin, feels like suede.

Zaehnsdorf probably left the covers plain to showcase the material, Streit said.

Brown's other "Dance of Death" edition, done in 1898, is more elaborately decorated with inlays of black leather and a gold-tooled skull. But a closer examination reveals the pores of the skin's former owner.

The story, Streit said, is about how death prevails over all, rich or poor. As with many of the skin-bound books, "there was some tie in with the content of the book," he said.

While human leather may be repulsive to contemporary society, libraries can ethically have the books in their collections if they are used respectfully for academic research and not displayed as objects of curiosity, says Paul Wolpe of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

"There is a certain distancing that history gives us from certain kinds of artifacts," Wolpe said, noting that museums often have bones from archaeological sites. "If you had called me and said these are books from Nazi Germany, I would have a very different response."

The Boston Athenaeum, a private library, has an 1837 copy of George Walton's memoirs bound in his own skin. Walton was a highwayman -- a robber who specialized in ambushing travelers -- and he left the volume to one of his victims, John Fenno. Fenno's daughter gave it to the library.

The Cleveland Public Library has a Quran that may have been bound in the skin of its previous owner, an Arab tribal leader. Pam Eyerdam, head of the library's fine arts and special collections department, said he may have wanted to immortalize himself.

"People kept their family histories written in Bibles, and what is a Quran?" she said.

Many of the volumes bound in human skin are medical books.

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has four bound by Dr. John Stockton Hough, known for diagnosing the city's first case of trichinosis. He used that patient's skin to bind three of the volumes.

"The hypothesis that I was suggesting is that these physicians did this to honor the people who furthered medical research," Hartman said.

It's not clear whether the patients knew what would happen to their bodies. In most cases, the skin appears to have come from poor people who had no one to claim their remains. Hough's patient was a 28-year-old Irish widow.

"Chances are she was very poor," Hartman said. "I don't know the family situation, but maybe no one came to claim the body?"

In most cases, universities and other libraries acquired the books as donations or as part of collections they purchased.

An alumnus donated the anatomy book to Brown. A 1568 edition of Belgian surgeon Andreas Vesalius' "De Humani Corporis Fabrica," it was a primary anatomy text for centuries and is still used by classes, Streit said.

The Harvard Law School Library bought its copy of a 1605 practice manual for Spanish lawyers decades ago, for $42.50 from an antiquarian books dealer in New Orleans. It sat on a shelf unnoticed until the early 1990s, when curator David Ferris was going through the library catalogue and saw a note, copied from inside the cover, saying it was bound in the skin of a man named Jonas Wright.

DNA tests were inconclusive -- the genetic material having been destroyed by the tanning process -- but the library had a box made to store the book and now keeps it on a special shelf.

"We felt we couldn't set it just next to someone else's law books," Ferris said.

------

On the Net:

John Hay Library: http://www.brown.edu/Facilities/University--Library/libs/hay/

Boston Athenaeum: http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/highwayman.html

College of Physicians of Philadelphia: http://www.collphyphil.org/



Link Posted: 1/8/2006 5:46:57 PM EDT
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 5:49:43 PM EDT
3 books? nobody ever said anything about....3 books!
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 5:53:15 PM EDT
Cool... I have a 18th century sex book made from real human vigina, sort of smells like fish during the summer months.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 5:53:32 PM EDT


What do you suppose the Ed Gein story would bring bound in his skin?
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 5:55:43 PM EDT

Originally Posted By AcidGambit:
Cool... I have a 18th century sex book made from real human vigina, sort of smells like fish during the summer months.


ok that was pretty funny or i am just tired
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 5:55:44 PM EDT
Klaatu Barata Nicto!
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 5:56:15 PM EDT
Klataa baratu noctum.....

Klatu barta nicotine....

Klattu barrata nictum...

awwww dammit....I forgot how it goes......
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 5:57:28 PM EDT
GOD DAMMIT!! I knew someone was gonna beat me to it....
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:02:32 PM EDT
I know a few people whom would be of greater use to society if they were utilized as book covers. I want a set of encyclopedias made from

.

And with the left overs I can donate shoes to everyone that needs pair.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:07:23 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/8/2006 6:09:26 PM EDT by Agrippa]
"Hold it... nobody said anything about three books. Ooh, that stinkin' wise man! So busy filling me full of secret little words, and his phrases, and his baloney that he never said anything about this...."

Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:10:42 PM EDT

Originally Posted By desertmoon:
Klataa baratu noctum.....

Klatu barta nicotine....

Klattu barrata nictum...

awwww dammit....I forgot how it goes......



Here ya go
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:19:48 PM EDT

Originally Posted By yekimak:
I know a few people whom would be of greater use to society if they were utilized as book covers. I want a set of encyclopedias made from

www.umich.edu/~urecord/0405/Oct04_04/img/041004_Moore(014).jpg.

And with the left overs I can donate shoes to everyone that needs pair.



I think a leather bound edition of Unintended Consequences would be a good use for o'l mikey there..
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:21:08 PM EDT
LOL... i just HAD to post in this thread....
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:27:09 PM EDT
No big deal.

How many folks wear Gore-Tex come fall and winter?

Human cadaver skin made into jackets to keep you warm and dry.

Good stuff.

HS1
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:30:11 PM EDT
I had a novel I written bounded with my tanned foreskin. It was a very small novel.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:32:24 PM EDT
There is a book in the UGA library (I never went up to see it despite my four years there) that is supposedly the last printing of an author's book - and it is bound in his own skin after he died.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:36:23 PM EDT

Originally Posted By HighStrung1:
No big deal.

How many folks wear Gore-Tex come fall and winter?

Human cadaver skin made into jackets to keep you warm and dry.

Good stuff.

HS1



Damn, he's right, I just went to the Gore-Tex web site and it says Gore-Tex is made from human flesh.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:47:57 PM EDT


Where does it say that?
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 6:49:36 PM EDT
This give me an awesome idea.

Maybe when I die, I can have all my published work bound up into one volume - and bound with my skin, and donated to my alma mater's library (along with a lot of money - that will be contingent on them keeping the book, to creep out students)

Link Posted: 1/8/2006 7:05:01 PM EDT

Originally Posted By passgas55:
I had a novel I written bounded with my tanned foreskin. It was a very small novel.



Novella?
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 7:16:18 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/8/2006 7:17:51 PM EDT by _DR]
Bah they said DNA tests were inconclusive becasue of the tanning process - could all be animal skin despite claims by the authors.

Vellum (parchment made from animal skin) has been used for thousands of years, documented in the Old Testament.

Without positive human DNA found, it's all speculation.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 7:25:05 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/8/2006 7:25:17 PM EDT by david_g17]

Originally Posted By DK-Prof:
This give me an awesome idea.

Maybe when I die, I can have all my published work bound up into one volume - and bound with my skin, and donated to my alma mater's library (along with a lot of money - that will be contingent on them keeping the book, to creep out students)




creep out students? more like be the object of every frat prank.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 7:31:41 PM EDT

Originally Posted By KA3B:

Originally Posted By HighStrung1:
No big deal.

How many folks wear Gore-Tex come fall and winter?

Human cadaver skin made into jackets to keep you warm and dry.

Good stuff.

HS1



Damn, he's right, I just went to the Gore-Tex web site and it says Gore-Tex is made from human flesh.



I need a link!!
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 7:44:59 PM EDT

Originally Posted By david_g17:

Originally Posted By DK-Prof:
This give me an awesome idea.

Maybe when I die, I can have all my published work bound up into one volume - and bound with my skin, and donated to my alma mater's library (along with a lot of money - that will be contingent on them keeping the book, to creep out students)




creep out students? more like be the object of every frat prank.



I'll take what I can get.

Link Posted: 1/8/2006 7:58:04 PM EDT

Originally Posted By vanilla_gorilla:
Klaatu Barata Nicto!



Yes, master.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 9:06:09 PM EDT
TAG!
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 9:17:15 PM EDT
UA is supposed to have one in the special collections library. It is right across from the math building, I should go check it out one day after calc.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 9:19:12 PM EDT

Originally Posted By C-4:

Originally Posted By passgas55:
I had a novel I written bounded with my tanned foreskin. It was a very small novel.



Novella?



EWWWWWW.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 9:23:15 PM EDT

Originally Posted By DK-Prof:
Maybe when I die, I can have all my published work bound up into one volume - and bound with my skin, and donated to my alma mater's library (along with a lot of money - that will be contingent on them keeping the book, to creep out students)



It would be a lot creepier if your collected works were bound in the skin of students who failed your class.
Link Posted: 1/8/2006 9:33:12 PM EDT
<Buffalo Bill> It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again<Buffalo Bill>
Link Posted: 1/9/2006 12:47:32 AM EDT

Originally Posted By DK-Prof:
This give me an awesome idea.

Maybe when I die, I can have all my published work bound up into one volume - and bound with my skin, and donated to my alma mater's library (along with a lot of money - that will be contingent on them keeping the book, to creep out students)




There are several universities in Europe still that have large portions of their endowments contingent on the display of the donor's corpse (or parts therefrom).

I've often thought it would be a great creep-out to require that all incoming freshman be told that the body of famous Alum "The Austrian" is in several preserved pieces concealed about the many classrooms on campus.
Link Posted: 1/9/2006 12:51:33 AM EDT

Originally Posted By passgas55:
I had a novel I written bounded with my tanned foreskin. It was a very small novel.



And when you rubbed it, it became an epic.
Link Posted: 1/9/2006 4:12:33 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/9/2006 4:14:01 AM EDT by hardcorps1775]
bah, blake beat me to it...
Link Posted: 1/9/2006 5:49:10 AM EDT

Originally Posted By KA3B:

Originally Posted By HighStrung1:
No big deal.

How many folks wear Gore-Tex come fall and winter?

Human cadaver skin made into jackets to keep you warm and dry.

Good stuff.

HS1



Damn, he's right, I just went to the Gore-Tex web site and it says Gore-Tex is made from human flesh.



Yeah- Al Gore's.
Link Posted: 1/9/2006 9:29:45 AM EDT

Originally Posted By mcgredo:

Originally Posted By DK-Prof:
Maybe when I die, I can have all my published work bound up into one volume - and bound with my skin, and donated to my alma mater's library (along with a lot of money - that will be contingent on them keeping the book, to creep out students)



It would be a lot creepier if your collected works were bound in the skin of students who failed your class.




That would be AWESOME !!!


Top Top