A few years ago, three separate books were discovered in Harvard University’s library that had particularly strange-looking leather covers. Upon further inspection, it was discovered that the smooth binding was actually human flesh… in one case, skin harvested from a man who was flayed alive. Yep, definitely the creepiest library ever. [Road Trippers]
So what were the books that were created using human skin? They range from medieval law to Roman poetry to French philosophy.
One of the volumes is a collection of essays from a French poet named Arsene Houssaye. He gave the book to a doctor friend who bound the book in the skin of an unclaimed body of a female mental patient. The binding has “a greenish-gold hue as well as visible pores,” the Crimson reports.
Another book was bound with the skin of a prisoner who was flayed alive in 1692. The inscription reads: “King Mbesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bind it. Requiescat in pace.” [NY Daily News]
As odd as it might sound, it apparently isn’t completely unheard of or even unusual.
Binding books with human skin—or anthropodermic biblioplegy—was a somewhat common practice in the 16th century, and Harvard is not the only University to have one of these grisly volumes in its possession. Brown University has three, and the Mutter Museum of medical oddities in Philadelphis has a whole collection of the skinbound books of 19th century doctor Joseph Leidy.
Check out the slideshow of human skin-bound books below: