Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae liber II
(Madrid : Juan dela Cuesta, 1605-1606)
The process of using human skin in bookbinding (anthropodermic binding) was common during the 17th century. While the binding resembles a leather substance more than skin these days, it still has a very odd texture.
The process of using human skin lasted up until the middle of the 18th century. European countries, and some in the Far East, were the main cultures that used the process, but is is not known to have been used in the United States.
It is said that anthropodermic binding was very common, mostly because human skin was inexpensive and widely available.
In the 19th century, book bindings in human skin captured the romantic notions of the upper class, and anthropodermic bindings became more common. A frequent subject of such bindings were anatomy textbooks, which doctors and medical students may have had bound in the skin of cadavers they had dissected.The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has at least four anthropodermic bindings, including one from a sailor's skin with a tattoo still visible. It seems that a 19th century South Jersey doc, Stoughton Hough, would tan the hides of derelicts in a chamber pot and use the leather for ... well, where was Clarice Starling when we really needed her, eh?
Dr. Eugene H. Wilson, director of the University of Colorado Libraries, ferretted out another example of human skin dressed like parchment, cited as Item 351 in LIst 24 of Paul F. Veith,
4117 Dryades Street, New Orleans 15:"Gutierrez (Ionne), Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias hispaniae primae partis nouae collectionis regiae libri I. et II . . . . cum duplici indice, altero legum regni, altero materiarum. Quarto. (Vellum?) (34), 794(1) pp. Madrid, 1606.
A manuscript note at the end claims that the binding is the skin of one John Wright. However, the custodians of the Harvard University Law Library, which purchased this volume, have been unable to identify John Wright or to substantiate the allegation that the vellum is of human origin.
Perhaps the most amusingly related anecdote about human skin bindings is in Dard Hunter's 'My Life with Paper.' He tells of a young widow who commissioned a memorial volume from the Roycrofters when he worked there, which was bound in her late husband's skin. He later sees a notice of her remarriage, and wonders if her new husband sees himself as Volume 2.
The town museum at Bury Saint Edmunds in Suffolk, England, has book bound in the skin of William Corder, who murdered Maria Martin in the Red Barn. The same display case also contains one of his ears and the pistols and knives with which he did the deed.
In the small town of Springfield, Oregon, Donal Russell's last wish was to have his body skinned and his hide tanned like leather. Strangle, local funeral directors' objected. His widow has asked for a judge to intervene as she quests to honor Donal's request.
Donal, a poet and fly fisherman who ran a fly-tying business called 'Russell's Bug House', died Feb. 3 at age 62. His will, signed Dec. 17, directed that his body "be skinned from the head down and tanned for the purpose of face binding volumes of my verse."
Hidden within the archives of the of the Ned McWherter Library in Memphis, Tennessee, is the 400-year-old book Lidolatrie Huguenote, a French-Catholic response to Protestantism.
"A Russian poet is said lately to have offered to the lady of his affections a collection of his sonnets bound in leather--human leather--which the poet himself furnished! On falling from his horse one day he broke his thigh, and being obliged to undergo amputation, he had the skin carefully tanned and reserved from some purpose
of the kind."
Harvard's libraries have a veritable treasure trove of Anthropodermic Bibliopegy. "Notable specimens include: a copy of the Koran at the Cleveland Public Library purportedly bound in the skin of a particularly devout believer who decreed the binding in his will, an autoanthropodermic binding of Jacques Delille's translation of Virgil's Georgics bound by skin surreptitiously stolen from his corpse while it lay in state, and ironic skin-bound copies of Cutaneous Diseases and The Dance of Death."
"When the notorious murderer, William Burke, was found guilty and hanged in 1829, his body was publicly dissected in the University of Edinburgh's medical school, and his skeleton still hangs there for students to observe. His skin was made into various items, including this pocket book. The pocket book is currently on display in the Surgeons' Hall Museum."