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The Harvard Library Owns Books Bound With Human Skin

Some creepy stuff’s going on over at the Harvard Library, or at least it was in 2006 when this article was originally written.

According to The Harvard Crimson Magazine, at least three rare, extremely old books were bound by human skin. Yep. Human skin.

The three books—about medieval law, Roman poetry, and French philosophy, respectively—date back to as early as 1605.

Here’s the skinny on the medieval law book:

Accessible in the library’s Elihu Reading Room, the book, entitled “Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias…,” looks old but otherwise ordinary.

Delicate, stiff, and with wrinkled edges, the skin’s coloring is a subdued yellow, with sporadic brown and black splotches like an old banana. The skin is not covered in hair or marked by tattoos—except for a “Harvard Law Library” branding on its spine. Nothing about it shouts “human flesh” to the untrained eye.

The book’s 794th and final page includes an inscription in purple cursive: “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. King Mbesa 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.”

This isn’t an April Fool’s Joke. That was yesterday.

Oh, but Harvard isn’t the only Ivy League school baring a little flesh in its libraries. Brown’s library contains three books bound in human skin and The Harvard Crimson says that Penn’s medical school “turned out a handful of human-skin tanners and binders in the late 19th century.”

How did I miss this? How did I have no idea that such a thing existed?

You have to wonder if Tyler Durden, whilst rummaging through dumpsters in search of human fat for making soap, might have spent some extra time looking for skin to sell to used bookstores. Blech.

What’s the most famous book bound in skin, otherwise known as an “anthropodermic binding?” According to Lawrence S. Thompson, the former director of libraries at the University of Kentucky, it’s “The Highwayman: Narrative of the Life of James Allen alias George Walton.”

The book, “The Highwayman: Narrative of the Life of James Allen alias George Walton,” is a memoir whose author lives on inside as well as on the book’s covers. Walton was impressed by the courage of a man whom he once attacked, and when Walton was facing execution, he asked to have his memoir bound in his own skin and presented to the brave man.

That’s just nasty. But I thought it would be no skin off my back to share with you guys, so enjoy.

More here. 

(Image: Getty Images)

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28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sam #

    I did not read yesterday’s post careful enough. Wow! You did get me. I was thinking that might limit your audience a bit.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  2. uhm, ewwww?!!

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  3. abundantlife #

    Reblogged this on ABUNDANT LIFE LIVING and commented:
    Who knew?! Creepy. Really creepy.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  4. deweydecimalsbutler #

    I wonder how the brave man responded to Walton’s gesture.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  5. gatergirl96 #

    Creepy!

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  6. gatergirl96 #

    Reblogged this on …..Life is Good…...

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  7. Reblogged this on Lisa's Kansa Muse and commented:
    Not surprised.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  8. Reblogged this on dunjav.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  9. I did not know this, but I’m not surprised.

    Did you take a look at the Wikipedia entry on Anthropodermic bibliopegy? It’s at:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropodermic_bibliopegy

    Not an unusual practice to bind books with the skin of murderers.

    There’s a bit of discrepancy wrt the King’s name Mbesa vs. Btesa. I think Wikipedia has it wrong, considering Harvard’s Crimson Review should have vetted their info with the school’s library.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  10. Reblogged this on aspiringwriterandbooklover and commented:
    Who woulda thunk it? An interesting but disturbing read!

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  11. Wow super gross but interesting!

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  12. Creepy – maybe because I come from the state that spawned Ed Gein! Reminds me of an art exhibit my husband and I saw a few years ago where the figures in the dioramas were made of human bone. These were new pieces of art, too, and were not macabre. We did not know the artist used human bone until we read the descriptions.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  13. I can just picture a reporter for the Harvard Crimson, running into the office of the editor, yelling, “Hold the presses. I’ve the skinny on the library. And you’re not going to believe it.”

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  14. Martha Kennedy #

    I don’t think it’s creepy at all. I think it’s cool. Imagine loving a book so much that you gave your life to it (as a writer). You would have the request of wrapping yourself around your life forever. I’d do it.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  15. How creepy is this! Makes me wonder if those skins were given willingly…

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  16. Reblogged this on 365(ish) Posts a Year.

    Like

    April 2, 2014
  17. Yikes!! For real?? Human skin?? That’s a little creepy!

    Like

    April 3, 2014
  18. Really oddly I was talking about these with a colleague in work the other day. That is one creepy coincidence!

    Like

    April 3, 2014
  19. Reblogged this on Art Therapy and Related Topics and commented:
    Thursday, time for my weekly blog post, but I just read this post and it’s too “juicy” not to share, even though it verges on the grotesque, I admit I am fascinated with the way in which dead bodies are disposed and things humans do to others’ dead corpses. This has been a fascinatiin for me since childhood, when I actively worried about what would happen if all the cemeteries were full: what would the grown ups do with all the extra dead bodies?

    Like

    April 3, 2014
  20. I love how every few years this comes up and people get weirded out by it! I just don’t think it’s that odd at all (and the Harvard blog specifically mentions this)! Plus there’s the great scene in Hocus Pocus with the book and the eye, and that movie definitely defined a generation 😀

    Like

    April 3, 2014
  21. Am I too weird for thinking this is actually pretty awesome? Unless people were killed especially for their skin to be used as book-binding material, I think it’s an interesting sort of memorial… A bit like those paintings made with cremation ash, or the custom of some african tribes to eat their dead.
    Thank you for sharing!

    Like

    April 5, 2014
  22. Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to safeguard against hackers?

    I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on.
    Any recommendations?

    Like

    April 6, 2014
  23. YIKES! I’m currently working on publishing two manuscripts . . . MINE shall be covered in plain old boring paper!!

    Like

    April 7, 2014
  24. Reblogged this on agentbaure's Blog.

    Like

    April 21, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Books Bound in Human Skin Grace the Shelves of Major Libraries
  2. Harvard discovers three of its library books are bound in human flesh | Roadtrippers | New York Library Club, Inc.
  3. Harvardnomicon Ex Mortis | SeriouslyGuys
  4. Random Facts #36 | Bruellmausblog

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