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January 10, 2006

Many Libraries Contain Books Bound With Human Skin

And not just the infamous Necronomicon at Miskatonic University, either:

Brown University's library boasts an anatomy book that combines form and function in macabre fashion. Its cover β€” tanned and polished to a smooth golden brown, like fine leather β€” is made of human skin.

In fact, a number of the nation's finest libraries, including Harvard's, have such books in their collections. The practice of binding books in human skin was not uncommon in centuries past, even if it was not always discussed in polite society.


Nowadays, libraries typically keep such volumes in their rare book collections and do not allow them to circulate. But scholars can examine them.

Anyone else getting antsy to play Call of Cthulhu?

Brown's John Hay Library has three books bound in human skin β€” the 1568 anatomy text by the Belgian surgeon Andreas Vesalius, and two 19th-century editions of "The Dance of Death," a medieval morality tale.

One copy of "The Dance of Death" was rebound in 1893 by Joseph Zaehnsdorf, a master binder in London.


"The Dance of Death" is about how death prevails over all, rich or poor. As with many other skin-bound volumes, "there was some tie-in with the content of the book," said Sam Streit, director of the John Hay Library.


The Boston Athenaeum, a private library, has an 1837 copy of George Walton's memoirs bound in his own skin. Walton was a highwayman β€” a robber who specialized in ambushing travelers β€” and left the volume to one of his victims.

The Cleveland Public Library has a Quran that may have been bound in the skin of its previous owner, an Arab tribal leader.

Weird. Until a half hour ago I thought the "human-leather book in the special collections section of a New England university library" was just a staple of horror fiction.

Thanks to the A-Man as well as SobekPundit.

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posted by Ace at 04:17 PM

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