Harvard Confirms Book Bound Using Human Skin

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By Silvana Peters | June 6, 2014 2:21 PM EST

While people aren't suppose to judge books by their cover, this might be one of those times when a reader definitely should. 

Experts at Harvard have confirmed that a 19th-century book housed in one the prestigious university's many libraries, specifically the Houghton Library, Harvard's rare book repository, has indeed been bound by human flesh. 

Click here to see a photo of the book.

The book in question is by French author Arsene Houssaye titled Des destinees de l'ame or Destinies of the Soul which has been in the library since 1934. It is a 315-page meditation that ponders on the soul and life after death. 

On the library's blog, the history of the book is recapitulated: "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."

Additionally, there was an autograph manuscript note in the volume written by Bouland that explained: "This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering: I had kept this piece of human skin taken from the back of a woman. It is interesting to see the different aspects that change this skin according to the method of preparation to which it is subjected. Compare for example with the small volume I have in my library, Sever. Pinaeus de Virginitatis notis which is also bound in human skin but tanned with sumac."

In the past, anthropodermic bibliopegy was practiced - binding books in human skin. This was done usually to the confession of criminals which would be bound in the skin of the convicted or a method utilised to memorialise an individual in book form, explained Harvard. 

The library has confirmed that the book in question is "now the only book at Harvard bound in human skin."

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