Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. As of May 2019, The Anthropodermic Book Project has examined 31 out of 50 known books supposed to have anthropodermic bindings, of which 18 have been confirmed as human and 13 have been demonstrated to be animal leather instead.
The word anthropodermic (k/ δέρμα (derma = skin), does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary and appears never to be used in contexts other than bookbinding. The phrase 'anthropodermic bibliopegy' has been used at least since Lawrence S. Thompson's article on the subject, published in 1946. The practice of binding a book in the skin of its author - as with The Highwayman, discussed below - has been called 'autoanthropodermic bibliopegy' (from αὐτόςautos, self).
A 17th century book on female virginity in the Wellcome Library, rebound in human skin by Dr. Ludovic Bouland around 1865
Auch sahen wir noch ein klein Büchelgen in Duodetz, Molleri manuale præparationis ad mortem. Man würde daran wohl nichts merkwürdiges finden, und warum es allhier stehe, erkennen, wenn man nicht vornen läse, daß es in Menschen-Leder eingebunden sey; welcher sonderbare Band, desgleichen ich noch nie gesehen, sich zu diesem Buche, zu besserer Betrachtung des Todes, wohl schicket. Man sollte es wohl vor Schwein-Leder ansehen.
— Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach, Merkwürdige Reisen durch Niedersachsen, Holland und Engelland
(We also saw a little duodecimo, Molleri manuale præparationis ad mortem. There seemed to be nothing remarkable about it, and you couldn't understand why it was here until you read in the front that it was bound in human leather. This unusual binding, the like of which I had never before seen, seemed especially well adapted to this book, dedicated to more meditation about death. You would take it for pig skin.)
— translated by Lawrence S. Thompson, Religatum de Pelle Humana
Another tradition, with less supporting evidence, is that books of erotica or the occult have been bound in human skin.
The Newberry Library in Chicago owns an Arabic manuscript written in 1848, with a handwritten note that it is bound in human skin, though "it is the opinion of the conservation staff that the binding material is not human skin, but rather highly burnished goat". This book is mentioned in the novel The Time Traveler's Wife, much of which is set in the Newberry.
The French astronomer Camille Flammarion's book Les terres du ciel (The Worlds of the Sky) (1877) was supposedly bound with the skin donated from a female admirer.
The National Library of Australia holds a 19th-century poetry book with the inscription "Bound in human skin" on the first page. The binding was performed 'before 1890' and identified as human skin by pathologists in 1992.
An exhibition of fine bindings at the Grolier Club in 1903 included, in a section of 'Bindings in Curious Materials', three editions of Holbein's 'Dance of Death' in 19th century human skin bindings; two of these now belong to the John Hay Library at Brown University. Other examples of the Dance of Death include an 1856 edition offered at auction by Leonard Smithers in 1895 and an 1842 edition from the personal library of offered at auction by Piasa of Paris in 2006. Bookbinder Edward Hertzberg describes the Monastery Hill Bindery having been approached by "[a]n Army Surgeon ... with a copy of Holbein's Dance of Death with the request that we bind it in a piece of human skin, which he brought along."
A portion of the binding in the copy of Dale Carnegie's Lincoln the Unknown that is part of the collection of Temple University's Charles L. Blockson Collection was "taken from the skin of a Negro at a Baltimore Hospital and tanned by the Jewell Belting Company".
The identification of human skin bindings has been attempted by examining the pattern of hair follicles, to distinguish human skin from that of other animals typically used for bookbinding, such as calf, sheep, goat, and pig. This is a necessarily subjective test, made harder by the distortions in the process of treating leather for binding. Testing a DNA sample is possible in principle, but DNA can be destroyed when skin is tanned, it degrades over time, and it can be contaminated by human readers.
The Harvard skin book belonged to Dr Ludovic Bouland of Strasbourg (died 1932), who rebound a second, De integritatis & corruptionis virginum notis, now in the Wellcome Library in London. The Wellcome also owns a notebook labelled as bound in the skin of 'the Negro whose Execution caused the War of Independence', presumably Crispus Attucks, but the library doubts that it is actually human skin.
Peptide mass fingerprinting was also used to determine the binding material for a miniature devotional book in the University of California's L'office de l'Eglise en françois. It is now known not to be bound in human skin but horse hide, or a mixture of horse and goatskin.
Presented by Arsène Houssaye to the bibliophile Dr Ludovic Bouland of Strasbourg, who bound it in skin which he had removed from 'the back of the unclaimed body of a woman patient in a French mental hospital who died suddenly of apoplexy'
Bound by Gustave Rykers of Bruxelles (stamped in gilt inside the front cover (in French): "Relié en Peau Humaine. G. Rykers."(Bound in human skin. G. Rykers)). Sold at auction in 2016 to a French private collector. Human skin confirmed in PMF analysis conducted by Dan Kirby in 2018.
"brown leather-backed marbled boards, raised bands, decoration of a gold bug descending front the eye-socket of a skull above a crossed sickle and shovel decoration on spine, marbled endpapers, top edge gilt."
The binding of books in human skin is also a common element within horror films and works of fiction.
In H.P. Lovecraft's horror story 'The Hound' (1922), the narrator and his friend St John, who are graverobbers, have a collection of macabre artefacts. Amongst them, "A locked portfolio, bound in tanned human skin, held certain unknown and unnameable drawings which it was rumoured Goya had perpetrated but dared not acknowledge."
In the Disney film Hocus Pocus (1993), the eldest Sanderson sister's (played by Bette Midler) fictional spellbook is bound in a patchwork of human skin with an enchanted, moving human eye embedded in the cover.
Peter Greenaway's 1996 film The Pillow Book contains a sequence in which the body of a writer's lover is exhumed by an obsessed publisher; and his skin, which she wrote upon after his death, is painstakingly tanned and bound into a book.
^Hertzberg, Edward (1933). Forty-four years as a bookbinder. Chicago: Ernst Hertzberg and Sons Monastery Hill Bindery. p. 43.
^Temple University Libraries and Charles L. Blockson, Catalogue of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection: A Unit of the Temple University Libraries, Temple University Press, 1990, p. 16. ISBN0877227497
^The Anthropodermic Book Project,The Science, checked 13 September 2016.
^Royal Library of Belgium (11 October 2018). "Une reliure en peau humaine ?" [A Human Skin Bookbinding ?]. Facebook (in French). Retrieved 15 December 2018. (Video by the Royal Library of Belgium on its official Facebook page, presenting the book and announcing the shipping of leather fragment samples to "an American Lab" for testing.). Also available on Youtube on the official channel of KRB, 10 October 2018.
^Royal Library of Belgium (31 October 2018). "Announcement of PMF results by the Royal Library of Belgium on the official Facebook page". Facebook (in French). Retrieved 15 December 2018. Les analyses viennent d’arriver : il ne s’agit ni de mouton, ni d’un autre animal couramment utilisé pour les reliures, mais bien de peau humaine. (The analyzes just arrived: it is neither sheep nor another animal commonly used for bindings, but human skin.); Royal Library of Belgium (2018). "Un livre relié en peau humaine ?" [A Human Skin Bookbinding ?]. Youtube (in French). Retrieved 10 January 2019. UPDATE : Il s’agit bien de peau humaine. (This is human skin.).
^Canavan, Trudi (2014). Thief's Magic. Millennium's Rule (Book 1). Orbit. ISBN978-0316209274. My cover and pages are my skin. My binding is my hair, twisted together and sewn with needles fashioned from my bones and glue from tendons.
Gordon, Jacob (2016). "In the Flesh? Anthropodermic Bibliopegy Verification and Its Implications". RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage. 17 (2): 118–133. 10.5860/rbm.17.2.9664. 2150-668X.
Kerner, Jennifer (2019). "Reliures de livres avec la peau du condamné : hommage et humiliation autour des corps criminels". In Vivas, Mathieu (ed.). (Re)lecture archéologique de la justice en Europe médiévale et moderne : actes du colloque international tenu à Bordeaux les 8-10 février 2017 (in French). Bordeaux: Ausonius. pp. 195–211. ISBN978-2-35613-243-7.
Rosenbloom, Megan (19 October 2016). "A Book by Its Cover". Lapham’s Quarterly. Retrieved 24 December 2018..
Samuelson, Todd (2014). "Still Life". Printing History: The Journal of the American Printing History Association. new series, 16: 42–50.
Smith, Daniel K. (2014). "Bound In Human Skin: A Survey of Examples of Anthropodermic Bibliopegy". In Joanna Ebenstein; Colin Dickey (eds.). The Morbid Anatomy Anthology (First ed.). Brooklyn, New York: Morbid Anatomy Press. ISBN9780989394307.
Sorgeloos, Claude (2012). "L'Histoire de la reliure de Josse Schavye" [The History of Bookbinding by Josse Schavye]. In Monte Artium (in French). 5: 119–167. 10.1484/J.IMA.1.103005. 2507-0312.
Thompson, Lawrence S. (1968). "Religatum de Pelle Humana"(PDF). Bibliologia Comica, or, Humorous aspects of the caparisoning and conservation of books. Hamden (Conn.): Archon Books. pp. 119–160. (originally issued separately in 1949 as University of Kentucky Libraries Occasional Contributions no. 6)
Read with caution : This work is mostly obsolete. The two examples of allegedly anthropodermic bindings cited by Harrison (Richeome's L’Idolatrie Huguenote from University of Memphis and L'office de l'Eglise en françois from Berkeley) have since been proven by PMF analysis to be not of human origin. See the Table Supposed examples confirmed as animal skin.