Harvard University’s Houghton Library officials announced in a blog post on Wednesday that one of the books in its collection is bound with human skin.
The book in question is the French book “Des destinees de l’ame” by Arsene Houssaye, and the skin comes from the unclaimed body of a female mental patient who suffered a stroke and passed away, according to a previous report by the Hougton Library researchers (via The Verge).
Harvard scientists conducted a series of tests on the binding and say they are “99 per cent confident” that the skin comes from a human:
Harvard conservators and scientists tested the binding using several different methods. According to Senior Rare Book Conservator Alan Puglia, they are 99% confident that the binding is of human origin.
Microscopic samples were taken from various locations on the binding, and were analysed by peptide mass fingerprinting, which identifies proteins to create a “peptide mass fingerprint” (PMF) allowing analysts to identify the source.
The book dates back to the 1880s and was a gift from the author Houssaye to his friend, Dr. Ludovic Bouland. It was Bouland who had the book bound with human skin.
“This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance,” wrote Bouland in an autograph manuscript within the book.
“By looking carefully you can easily distinguish the pores of the skin.”
Though both fascinating and revolting to modern sensibilities, binding books in human skin has occurred at least since the 16th century and Houghton Library staff members even describe as “somewhat common.” It even has a name — anthropodermic bibliopegy.
Plus, the binding is oddly appropriate given that the book’s subject matter is “a meditation on the soul and life after death.”
This is the only book in Harvard’s library that is known to be made of human skin, though there were past speculations by The Harvard Crimson in 2006 that a 17th century book owned by Harvard Law School was bound with the flesh of a man who was “flayed alive.”
The book later proved to be bound in sheepskin.
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