15 April 2014

Human skin and book binding - what do they have in common?

I’ve done a lot of cover posts in the past: good covers, bad covers, weird covers. Never before, however, have I posted anything quite as macabre as anthropodermic bibliopegy. The what? The practice of binding books in human skin.
I know… creepy.
Although hardly a common practice it dates back to at least the 17th Century. The technique was used to bind things like anatomy books, last will and testaments, and judicial proceedings (one story tells how the skin of a convicted murderer was used to bind the pages of his trial notes.)

Not only does this practice cover the outside of fictional tombs, it also slithers its way inside, especially in horror stories.
·         In H.P. Lovecraft's horror story "The Hound", the narrator and his friend St John, who are graverobbers, have a collection of macabre artefacts. Amongst them, "A locked portfolio, bound in tanned human skin, held certain unknown and unnameable drawings which it was rumoured Goya had perpetrated but dared not acknowledge."
·         In the Evil Dead series of films and comic books originally created by Sam Raimi, a fictional Sumerian book called the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis is bound in human skin and inked with human blood.

What brought on this rather disturbing topic? A recent article in the Guardian revealed the results of analysis by Harvard scientists who discovered the binding of the 17-century book, Practicarum Quaestionum Circa Leges Regias Hispaniae, is actually sheepskin. (whew – on that one at any rate).

Two other Harvard library titles, however, are believed to be bound in human skin. A 1597 French translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses , which is annotated with the words "bound in human skin" on its inside cover, according to The Harvard Crimson, and Arsène Houssaye's mediations on the spirit, Des Destinées de L'Ame, which dates to the 1880s.

Is it just me – or does this one look like it’s got a face on the cover

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