Anthropodermic Book Binding

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Anthropodermic bibliopegy (book binding)  is the practice of binding books in human skin.  The first examples of anthropodermic bindings come from the 17th century, but the practice really seems to have increased during the French Revolution. The skin of victims were sometimes used to bind books by its proponents.  Included in this period is a copy of The Rights of Man and several copies of the French Constitution of 1793. From at least this time forward, stories about the mistreatment of human skin became a popular propaganda tool, used in not only the French Revolution but also the American Civil War, and World Wars I & II.

In the 19th century, book bindings in human skin more common with the upper class. 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. An early example is the anthropodermic book found in Brown’s John Hay library, Vesalius’ classic work of anatomy, De Humanis Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body). The close association of medical and legal gentry of the day led to more than a few law books bound in a similar manner.

Around the same time, the skin of executed criminals was occasionally used for book bindings. The first known example of this was the binding of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary in the skin of criminal James Johnson (relation unknown), after the latter was hung in Norwich in 1818. The museum of Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, England contains a more famous example – an account of the trial proceedings against William Corder, perpetrator of the storied ‘Murder in the Red Barn’ of Maria Martin in 1827, bound in the executed murderer’s skin.

Source: Harvard Law Record