Our last entry on book surgeries got us thinking about a more grisly nexus of books and anatomy, in particular: anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the use of human skin in bookbinding.
If you thought such things only existed in concentration camp mythology and The Evil Dead movies, think again. Genuine examples can be found in museums the world over. London’s Wellcome Library in London has one; Brown University in Providence, and Berkeley’s Bancroft Library each have one; Harvard has two, and The Mütter Museum boasts four examples including one sporting a tattoo.
Though reasons for the creation of such volumes were varied, the rationale is more or less apparent in many cases as with the skin from dissected cadavers used to bind anatomy books, or the skin of convicted murderers punitively employed in the binding of accounts of their trials. Less obvious, and more creepy — if one can really parse such things when it comes to books bound in human skin — would be the Bancroft Library’s example created during the French Revolution– a book of common prayer.
Nor is the practice a thing of the past, as made clear this month by the appearance of a story about a Russian writer Maksim Aleshin currently writing a book he plans to have bound in his own skin, a proposition serious enough to have already placed the book on the market. It’ll be $100,000, so start squirreling away funds now as you’re sure to have competition from other ghoulish collectors, including the small but dedicated followers of the anthropodermic bibliopegy interest group on FaceBook.