If you’ve ever seen Sam Rami’s 1980’s cult horror classic “Evil dead 2”, you may remember the Necronomicon, aka. “The book of the dead”; bound in human skin and inked in human blood.
But books of this nature are not strictly limited to the fictional horror world as you can find examples of them throughout history.
Dated back to the 17th century, anthropodermic bibliopegy, as it is called, wasn’t as uncommon as one may think. There is many a book on the subject of anatomy bound in the skins of post-dissection cadavers, who donated their flesh willingly as stated in their last wills and testaments.
Mostly famously “The Narrative of the Life of James Allen”, an autobiographical work by outlaw and highwayman, James Allen, was a death bed confession and life story, written during his incarceration.
Due to Allen’s illiteracy, the book was transcribed by a warden and publishedin 1837 by a company named Harrington and Co.
The original copy was bound in Allen’s own skin, and at his request, presented to one of his previous robbery victims to commend his bravery.
William Burke, of the infamous Burke and Hare murder team were known for their midnight prowling of the streets of Edinburgh, where they would drug and murder their victims, in order to turn their bodies over to a local anatomist for profit. Post execution, Burke’s skin was used to fashion a pocket book, which is currently displayed in Edinburgh museum.
Another example is English Bristol native and convicted murderer John Horwood, whose court proceedings were bound in his skin after he was hanged in 1821 having murdered his girlfriend after seeing her with another boy. He threw a stone at the couple, which made contact with the head of his then girlfriend, Eliza Balsom, hitting her in the temple, causing a fracture to her skull.
She died some days later and Horwood was convicted and hanged.
His skeleton was donated to the University of Bristol, where it stood with the noose still around the neck until 2011, when his skeletal remains were eventually laid to rest alongside his father.
(above Left: An anatomy book, bound in skin)
A more opportunistic and grisly example of human flesh bound books, and other various articles, took place during the French Revolution.
As not to waste the vast amount of human surplus left behind by the guillotine executions, the skins of the executed were sold as leather and used to bind books as well as used in the manufacture of leather waist coats and shoes.
From the skins of the convicted, to the flesh donated by admirers, and even erotic texts bound in the skin of women’s breasts, there are many existing examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy still around today.
Sources: Evil Dead (Sam Rami) http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27903742 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropodermic_bibliopegy http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2006/2/2/the-skinny-on-harvards-rare-book/ http://etseq.law.harvard.edu/2014/04/852-rare-old-books-new-technologies-and-the-human-skin-book-at-hls/ http://hlrecord.org/2005/11/books-bound-in-human-skin-lampshade-myth/