Books Magazine

The Harvard Library Owns Books Bound With Human Skin

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

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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