Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Some of nationís best libraries have books bound in human skin
eyewitnessnewstv.com ^ | 1/7/06 | AP

Posted on 01/07/2006 1:44:19 PM PST by wagglebee

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Brown University’s library boasts an unusual anatomy book. Tanned and polished to a smooth golden brown, its cover looks and feels no different from any other fine leather.

But here’s its secret: the book is bound in human skin.

A number of prestigious libraries—including Harvard University’s—have such books in their collections. While the idea of making leather from human skin seems bizarre and cruel today, it was not uncommon in centuries past, said Laura Hartman, a rare book cataloger at the National Library of Medicine in Maryland and author of a paper on the subject.

An article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from the late 1800s “suggests that it was common, but it also indicates it wasn’t talked about in polite society,” Hartman said.

The best libraries then belonged to private collectors. Some were doctors who had access to skin from amputated parts and patients whose bodies were not claimed. They found human leather to be relatively cheap, durable and waterproof, Hartman said.

In other cases, wealthy bibliophiles may have acquired the skin from criminals who were executed, cadavers used in medical schools and people who died in the poor house, said Sam Streit, director of Brown’s John Hay Library.

The library has three books bound in human skin—the anatomy text and two 19th century editions of “The Dance of Death,” a medieval morality tale.

One copy of “The Dance of Death” dates to 1816 but was rebound in 1893 by Joseph Zaehnsdorf, a master binder in London. A note to his client reports that he did not have enough skin and had to split it. The front cover, bound in the outer layer of the epidermis, has a slightly bumpy texture, like soft sandpaper. The spine and back cover, made from the inner layer of skin, feels like suede.

Zaehnsdorf probably left the covers plain to showcase the material, Streit said.

Brown’s other “Dance of Death” edition, done in 1898, is more elaborately decorated with inlays of black leather and a gold-tooled skull. But a closer examination reveals the pores of the skin’s former owner.

The story, Streit said, is about how death prevails over all, rich or poor. As with many of the skin-bound books, “there was some tie in with the content of the book,” he said.

While human leather may be repulsive to contemporary society, libraries can ethically have the books in their collections if they are used respectfully for academic research and not displayed as objects of curiosity, says Paul Wolpe of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

“There is a certain distancing that history gives us from certain kinds of artifacts,” Wolpe said, noting that museums often have bones from archaeological sites. “If you had called me and said these are books from Nazi Germany, I would have a very different response.”

The Boston Athenaeum, a private library, has an 1837 copy of George Walton’s memoirs bound in his own skin. Walton was a highwayman—a robber who specialized in ambushing travelers—and he left the volume to one of his victims, John Fenno. Fenno’s daughter gave it to the library.

The Cleveland Public Library has a Quran that may have been bound in the skin of its previous owner, an Arab tribal leader. Pam Eyerdam, head of the library’s fine arts and special collections department, said he may have wanted to immortalize himself.

“People kept their family histories written in Bibles, and what is a Quran?” she said.

Many of the volumes bound in human skin are medical books.

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has four bound by Dr. John Stockton Hough, known for diagnosing the city’s first case of trichinosis. He used that patient’s skin to bind three of the volumes.

“The hypothesis that I was suggesting is that these physicians did this to honor the people who furthered medical research,” Hartman said.

It’s not clear whether the patients knew what would happen to their bodies. In most cases, the skin appears to have come from poor people who had no one to claim their remains. Hough’s patient was a 28-year-old Irish widow.

“Chances are she was very poor,” Hartman said. “I don’t know the family situation, but maybe no one came to claim the body?”

In most cases, universities and other libraries acquired the books as donations or as part of collections they purchased.

An alumnus donated the anatomy book to Brown. A 1568 edition of Belgian surgeon Andreas Vesalius’ “De Humani Corporis Fabrica,” it was a primary anatomy text for centuries and is still used by classes, Streit said.

The Harvard Law School Library bought its copy of a 1605 practice manual for Spanish lawyers decades ago, for $42.50 from an antiquarian books dealer in New Orleans. It sat on a shelf unnoticed until the early 1990s, when curator David Ferris was going through the library catalogue and saw a note, copied from inside the cover, saying it was bound in the skin of a man named Jonas Wright.

DNA tests were inconclusive—the genetic material having been destroyed by the tanning process—but the library had a box made to store the book and now keeps it on a special shelf.

“We felt we couldn’t set it just next to someone else’s law books,” Ferris said.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: bookbinding; books; humanskin; itsacookbook; itspeople; libraries; soylentgreen; toserveman
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-100101-137 next last
Disgusting.
1 posted on 01/07/2006 1:44:23 PM PST by wagglebee
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: wagglebee

Read the tagline. Ew... *shivers*


2 posted on 01/07/2006 1:46:19 PM PST by 4mycountry (Now that's just freaking freaky.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee
a 1605 practice manual for Spanish lawyers... was bound in the skin of a man named Jonas Wright.

Shocker

3 posted on 01/07/2006 1:47:13 PM PST by stainlessbanner
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee

I wonder if I'll still get zits if I'm made into a book post mortem?

Imagine dusting THAT book.


4 posted on 01/07/2006 1:47:54 PM PST by WIladyconservative (PROUD MONTHLY DONOR - you can be, too! It's easy and painless!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: stainlessbanner

Books bound in human skin? Big deal. We have to eat someone alive, arrange that person's bones into an inverted circle of protection, and then vomit that person's soul into the circle before we can pass the bar exam (the spot where we vomit the soul is the place where we build our law libraries).


5 posted on 01/07/2006 1:49:44 PM PST by Gordongekko909 (I know. Let's cut his WHOLE BODY off.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee

The Necronomicon? Written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred? That's one you definitely want to check the Cliff Notes on before trying to read the real thing.


6 posted on 01/07/2006 1:51:27 PM PST by Steel Wolf (If the Founders had wanted the President to be spying on our phone calls, they would have said so!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee
Disgusting.

Why?

Once I'm finished with this body, I couldn't care less if they bind a book in it or make dogfood out of it.

Just don't waste money burying it.

So9

7 posted on 01/07/2006 1:52:55 PM PST by Servant of the 9 (Trust Me)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee
Paul Wolpe of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania [said,] “There is a certain distancing that history gives us from certain kinds of artifacts. . . . If you had called me and said these are books from Nazi Germany, I would have a very different response.”

It has often been noted that the origins of the Holocaust were eugenics, which had scientific pretensions, and medical experimentation. The Holocaust was preceded by the Nazi decision to do away with "useless eaters."

It is typical that a "bioethics" expert is unable to see these connections. Bioethics is a fraudulent field in which people get fraudulent degrees in something called "ethics" so they can work in the medical industry and shield the people who pay their salaries from charges of criminal conduct and gross immorality.

Thus, if you are a large hospital liable to be sued by tort lawyers, you have a biotheticist on your payroll who will testify that everything you do is right and good, including killing off any useless eaters who happen to be lying around the hospital.

8 posted on 01/07/2006 1:53:52 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: WIladyconservative

IF the book came with a free packet of oxi, things would be just fine.


9 posted on 01/07/2006 1:54:13 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: stainlessbanner

I suppose it is too much to hope that Jonas Wright was a lawyer and that a dissatisfied client "arranged" the skinning and tanning.

For a client to tan the hide of a lawyer would be a switch, indeed.


10 posted on 01/07/2006 1:54:17 PM PST by GladesGuru (In a society predicated upon Liberty, it is essential to examine principle)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Gordongekko909

Umm.... Thanks for the lesson in book ethics. Now I can definitely eat my lunch.


11 posted on 01/07/2006 1:56:50 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Gordongekko909
Books bound in human skin? Big deal. We have to eat someone alive, arrange that person's bones into an inverted circle of protection, and then vomit that person's soul into the circle before we can pass the bar exam (the spot where we vomit the soul is the place where we build our law libraries).

Not to mention you have to present a medical certificate that your conscience has been surgically removed before being allowed to take your third year of law school.

So9

12 posted on 01/07/2006 1:56:54 PM PST by Servant of the 9 (Trust Me)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee

Recycling goes too far.


13 posted on 01/07/2006 1:57:18 PM PST by atomicpossum (If I don't reply, don't think you're winning. I often just don't bother to argue.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee

EWWWWW!!!!!!!!


14 posted on 01/07/2006 1:57:42 PM PST by Clintonfatigued (Sam Alito Deserves To Be Confirmed)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee

I have first dibs on Michael Moore's skin - when the time comes, of course.


15 posted on 01/07/2006 1:58:22 PM PST by LurkedLongEnough
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: stainlessbanner

raYea spanish people are so sadistic. think before your write.


16 posted on 01/07/2006 1:58:23 PM PST by The Cuban
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Steel Wolf

The Necronomicon? Written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred? That's one you definitely want to check the Cliff Notes on before trying to read the real thing.

Cliff would have plenty to say I'll bet about this.


17 posted on 01/07/2006 1:58:30 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Servant of the 9
Not to mention you have to present a medical certificate that your conscience has been surgically removed before being allowed to take your third year of law school.

Conscience? No, we have to kill our entire souls before we can complete our first year.

18 posted on 01/07/2006 1:58:35 PM PST by Gordongekko909 (I know. Let's cut his WHOLE BODY off.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee

No surprise -- I once rubbed a small dictionary and it grew into an encyclopedia.


19 posted on 01/07/2006 1:59:11 PM PST by durasell (!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: LurkedLongEnough

I have first dibs on Michael Moore's skin - when the time comes, of course.

Sorry, someone else has it. It will be used to retrofit the Superdome in the event of another major hurricane.


20 posted on 01/07/2006 2:00:08 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: durasell

No surprise -- I once rubbed a small dictionary and it grew into an encyclopedia.

My brain grew into a rice kernel. You need to give me some pointers.


21 posted on 01/07/2006 2:01:48 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: Servant of the 9

I couldn't care less if they bind a book in it or make dogfood out of it.

Is that Alpo's or IAMS' secret?


22 posted on 01/07/2006 2:02:54 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: moog

Index --index finger? Coincidence? I think not. And don't even get me started on footnotes...


23 posted on 01/07/2006 2:03:32 PM PST by durasell (!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: Gordongekko909

Conscience? No, we have to kill our entire souls before we can complete our first year.

My shoes have always been in bad shape.


24 posted on 01/07/2006 2:04:54 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: LurkedLongEnough; wagglebee
I have first dibs on Michael Moore's skin - when the time comes, of course.

You could bound the ENTIRE Library of Congress in that much skin!!!!
25 posted on 01/07/2006 2:05:13 PM PST by MikefromOhio
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: moog
My brain grew into a rice kernel.

You must have rubbed it the wrong way.

26 posted on 01/07/2006 2:05:14 PM PST by inquest (If you favor any legal status for illegal aliens, then do not claim to be in favor of secure borders)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

To: LurkedLongEnough

Have plans to make a circus tent?


27 posted on 01/07/2006 2:05:38 PM PST by Farmer Dean (Every time a toilet flushes,another liberal gets his brains.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: LurkedLongEnough
I have first dibs on Michael Moore's skin - when the time comes, of course.

Yeah, somewhere at my parents' house I have a set of World Book encyclopedias from when I was a kid, fatass Moore's skin could probably cover them all.

28 posted on 01/07/2006 2:06:21 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: durasell
"No surprise -- I once rubbed a small dictionary and it grew into an encyclopedia."

I have one of those too. It was covered by a Rabbi.

29 posted on 01/07/2006 2:06:24 PM PST by davisfh
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: durasell
Index --index finger? Coincidence? I think not. And don't even get me started on footnotes...

And you don't want to know what they made into a bookmark.

So9

30 posted on 01/07/2006 2:07:28 PM PST by Servant of the 9 (Trust Me)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: durasell

Index --index finger? Coincidence? I think not. And don't even get me started on footnotes...

Those footnotes can nail you, especially when someone's pulling your leg.


31 posted on 01/07/2006 2:07:30 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee
“People kept their family histories written in Bibles, and what is a Quran?” she said.

A sordid tale written by a child molesting sociopath.

Happy to help clarify that.

32 posted on 01/07/2006 2:08:19 PM PST by AlaninSA (It's one nation under God -- brought to you by the Knights of Columbus)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Cicero

I have an unusual book at home I think called "The Uses Of Evil". It is written by a doctor and summarizes the research done on starvation by Jewish doctors in the Warsaw Ghetto. Essentially, the doctors decided that they should catalog the effects of starvation on humans. The whole book is a hellish account because in addition to the starving people, the doctors and hospital existed only at the whims of the Nazis. So the question is whether this research was moral?


33 posted on 01/07/2006 2:08:27 PM PST by Williams
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: inquest

You must have rubbed it the wrong way.

I rattled the rocks a little too much I believe.


34 posted on 01/07/2006 2:09:09 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 26 | View Replies]

To: Williams

Interesting. Reminds me of the play The Substance of Fire. You should check it out.


35 posted on 01/07/2006 2:10:21 PM PST by durasell (!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 33 | View Replies]

To: Servant of the 9

And you don't want to know what they made into a bookmark.

Think slick willy.


36 posted on 01/07/2006 2:10:27 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 30 | View Replies]

To: durasell

1996 movie, too.


37 posted on 01/07/2006 2:13:49 PM PST by Williams
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 35 | View Replies]

To: LurkedLongEnough

You're binding an encyclopedia, right?


38 posted on 01/07/2006 2:14:05 PM PST by Roccus
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: Williams

Oh, yes. The Nazi doctors did all sorts of experimental studies on starving to death, how long it takes to die of cold and exposure, and so forth, using human guinea pigs.

They might put naked prisoners into cold water or cold rooms, and time how long it took them to die, for instance.

It does raise some interesting ethical issues. Is it legitimate to consult Nazi studies of death from exposure when the participants were, in effect, murdered? Obviously it was not legitimate to kill people in order to make these medical discoveries, but since the killing has already been done and cannot be undone, is it legitimate to make use of the test results?

My personal response is, no. It's not legitimate. It may seem wasteful to throw careful medical research away, but careful researched based on murder simply shouldn't be used in any way, IMHO.


39 posted on 01/07/2006 2:14:39 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 33 | View Replies]

To: Cicero

I understand, but the research I am referring to was done by Jewish doctors in the Warsaw Ghetto, by observing the starving Jews around them and in their hospital. Very different.


40 posted on 01/07/2006 2:16:34 PM PST by Williams
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 39 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee; Charles Henrickson; mikrofon
the book is bound in human skin.

How novel.

41 posted on 01/07/2006 2:16:34 PM PST by martin_fierro (Book 'im, Danno!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: martin_fierro

It's a new way of fiction things.


42 posted on 01/07/2006 2:18:54 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 41 | View Replies]

To: Williams

Right. They did a nice job with the movie.


43 posted on 01/07/2006 2:18:59 PM PST by durasell (!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 37 | View Replies]

To: moog
Is that Alpo's or IAMS' secret?

I think it goes under the brand name 'Soylent Green'.

44 posted on 01/07/2006 2:21:27 PM PST by Rightwing Conspiratr1
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: Rightwing Conspiratr1

That's food for thought.


45 posted on 01/07/2006 2:24:06 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 44 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee; aculeus; AnAmericanMother; hellinahandcart; Larry Lucido; Petronski; ...
Before me as I write lies an inch-square bit of brown leather — not, you would think, an inspiring subject for a tale. But perpend. This fragment of human skin, for such it is, has been since 1829 in the possession of three persons only: the original owner, my grandfather, and myself. Inconsiderable in size and unimpressive of aspect, it was nevertheless potent to influence the direction of my future studies. While yet a small boy, my grandfather would often shew me by request his singular relic and I never wearied of hearing how he came by it. As a matter of history, its first proprietor, the late Mr. William Burke of Edinburgh, in the circumstances hereafter to be related, was publicly anatomized, his carcase thereafter flayed, his hide tanned, and his skeleton by order of Court preserved in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh University, where it remains as a memorial of his infamy even to this day. Mr. Burke’s integument being cut up into sortable parcels to suit buyers’ tastes and exposed for sale by private bargain, my grandfather, who was then but a young man, invested in a modest shilling’s worth. Wealthier purchasers bought larger lots — I have heard that the late Professor Chiene had a tobacco pouch made of this unique material. Personally, despite my predilection for crime, I prefer indiarubber. My grandfather kept his portion coffined in a wooden snuff-box; it was shrouded in a yellow scrap of paper, bearing in his autograph the contemporary inscription: “Piece of Skin tan’d from the Body of Burke the Murderer.” (As I grew older I plumed myself on my superior orthography.) Thus in my blameless childhood did I first hear the horrid story of Burke and Hare.

— Sir William Roughead, The West Port Murders.


46 posted on 01/07/2006 2:24:33 PM PST by dighton
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Cicero

Disagree.

If the results of research performed in unethical, even murderous, ways can be used to prevent or treat future human suffering, I think it is entirely legitimate to use it. Surely those who died would prefer that their suffering not be entirely in vain.

The story of the Bible is largely one of eventual good coming from temporary evil.


47 posted on 01/07/2006 2:24:55 PM PST by Restorer
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 39 | View Replies]

To: wagglebee

Maybe if we could refine DNA testing to identify the skin donors, we might be able to charge their descendents any late fines that might have accrued.


48 posted on 01/07/2006 2:26:25 PM PST by Continental Soldier
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: moog

Shave any good books recently?

49 posted on 01/07/2006 2:26:48 PM PST by billorites (freepo ergo sum)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 36 | View Replies]

To: Continental Soldier
"Maybe if we could refine DNA testing to identify the skin donors, we might be able to charge their descendents any late fines that might have accrued." That comment was long overdue.
50 posted on 01/07/2006 2:27:49 PM PST by moog
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 48 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-5051-100101-137 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson