Experts at Harvard said this week that they have confirmed that a 19th-century book housed in one of the university’s libraries is bound in human skin.
— Harvard Library (@HarvardLibrary) June 5, 2014
Scientists and conservators carried out a series of tests on Houghton Library’s copy of the French writer Arsene Houssaye’s “Des destinees de l’ame” and concluded with 99.9% confidence that the binding material came from a human.
According to the library, Houssaye presented the text, described as “a meditation on the soul and life after death,” to one of his friends, a book-loving medical doctor, in the mid 1880s.
The recipient, Dr Ludovic Bouland, bound the book “with skin from the unclaimed body of a female mental patient who had died of a stroke,” the library said.
Bouland left a note in the volume explaining what he had done.
“A book about the human and soul deserved to have a human covering,” he wrote.
Although binding a book in another person’s skin may seem creepy nowadays, the library says it wasn’t always so unusual and reviled.
“Termed anthropodermic bibliopegy, the binding of books in human skin has occurred at least since the 16th century,” it said. “The confessions of criminals were occasionally bound in the skin of the convicted, or an individual might request to be memorialized for family or lovers in the form of a book.”