Harvard uncovers its (human) hidebound collections
March 29, 2014 | 12:30 pm
The Harvard Crimson, college newspaper of Harvard College, shared a report that may make some more anxiously await the final ebook takeover. Because there’s always the risk in a print library of one day laying your hands on a book bound in human skin.
The practice of binding books in human skin is known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, and is definitely recognized, though rare. Ivy League schools, for some reason, are especially associated with it – which perhaps explains something about those Skull and Bones urban legends. The book illustrated here, though, is from England, bound in the skin of Father Henry Garnet, the head of the Jesuits in England, and one of the supposed leaders of the Gunpowder Plot conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
According to the Harvard report, at least three volumes, and possibly others, exist within the various Harvard collections. Others also reportedly exist at Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Boston Athenaeum, with pedigrees varying from living donors to executed highwaymen. Authenticity in some cases remains doubtful, with genetic testing the only final guarantee.
One volume, a 17th-century Spanish law book, bears the following inscription: “the bynding of this booke is all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Mbesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace.”
The horror story cliches of grimoires bound in human skin suddenly look a lot more credible. And one shudders to think what anyone might do to updated the principle. Anyone for a new novelty line in Kindle covers?