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Antique book bound in human skin found at Harvard

The book Arsene Houssaye’s Des destinees de l’ame (On the destiny of the soul) is part of the antique book collection of Harvard University’s Houghton Library. What’s extra special about it came to light only recently when scientists confirmed that it is bound in human skin. This conclusion endorses the veracity of a handwritten note in French found inside the book, which said the book was bound ‘in human skin parchment’.

‘By looking carefully, you easily distinguish the pores of the skin,’ added the note which was written by a doctor named Ludovic Bouland, who was a friend of Houssaye who lived from 1815-1896. ‘A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering,’ added the doctor, who also said the skin was taken from the back of a woman who suffered from mental illness and had died of a heart attack.

The practice, called anthropodermic bibliopegy, was once somewhat common, the university said. ‘There are many accounts of similar occurrences in the 19th century, in which the bodies of executed criminals were donated to science, and the skins given to tanners and bookbinders,’ the library’s blog entry stated.

So what have you got at your end, Yale?