Did you know that Harvard University’s library has books bound in human skin?
If that freaks you out a little, don’t worry – you’re not alone. A number of internet users appear quite unnerved this morning after news of the
human skin-bound books rose to Reddit’s front page by virtue of receiving more than 3,500 upvotes in 2 hours.
User lightbringer1979 joked that this was, “the only time when judging a book by its cover could be racist.”
“Think of how weird it was [to] be the first one with the idea to do that,” wrote user aSpottedCow. “Just looking at someone and thinking, “wow, you would go GREAT on my bookshelf.”
While that’s probably not exactly how human flesh book binding came into existence, Harvard University’s FAQ page does shed some light on the matter.
“Yes, we do have books believed to be bound in human skin,” it reads.
A post from the Houghton Library blog points the finger at one book in particular – the rather artsy sounding Des destinées de l’ame by Arsène Houssaye. The post reads:
In the mid-1880s, Houssaye (1815-1896) presented his recent book, a meditation on the soul and life after death, to his friend Dr. Ludovic Bouland (1839-1932), a noted medical doctor and prominent bibliophile. Bouland bound the book with skin from the unclaimed body of a female mental patient who had died of a stroke.
The post also mentions a French translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses “which may have used an anthropodermic binding.”
“I mean, they were bound to find out eventually,” punned Reddit user BeastlyAttempts in response to the unusual news.
Oddgenetix remarked, “I can see why it didn’t catch on… Human leather looks terrible. Grain looks bad. Texture looks bad. Those books look like they’re bound in a resin-soaked flour tortilla.”
While the human skin book binding process certainly didn’t catch on and become massively popular per se, the Houghton Library blog does say it was “once somewhat common.”
“The confessions of criminals were occasionally bound in the skin of the convicted,” reads the post, adding that “an individual might request to be memorialized for family or lovers in the form of a book.”
Want to learn about other usual book binding materials and processes? Check out the video below!