Tests Show 19th-century Book In Harvard University is Bound in Human Skin
Scientists at Harvard have confirmed that a 19th-century book in the university’s libraries is almost surely bound in human skin. The book, Arsène Houssaye’s “Des destinées de l’ame” (On the Destiny of the Soul), deposited at Harvard’s Houghton Library in 1934, contains a manuscript note claiming that the book was bound in skin taken from the back of a woman, since “a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering.”
Researchers confirmed the claim using several techniques, including peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF), which identifies proteins.
The Houssaye book was believed to be covered with the skin of an unclaimed female mental patient who died of natural causes. Writer Arsene Houssaye is said to have given the book in the mid 1880s to his friend, Dr Ludovic Bouland, who apparently carried out the unusual binding.
Covering books in human skin, known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, was a particular subject of interest in the 19th Century, although it is understood the practice goes back further.