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Book bound in human skin at Harvard: Skin stripped from back of female corpse

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It has been confirmed that a book contained in Harvard Library's rare book section is bound with human skin. They even know where the human skin came from that was used to cover the book, according to USA Today on June 4.

The news came out last year that a book about the after-life from a 19th century writer was more than likely bound with the skin of a human being. Testing done on the book confirms that it is indeed human skin, which looks like a worn animal hide.

French Author Arsene Housaye presented his book to a doctor in the late 1880s, who was an avid book collector. The 315-page book apparently became a prize possession of Dr. Ludovic Bouland because he had it bound in human skin.

The skin came from the back of a female who had died in a mental institution and her body went unclaimed. The patient had died of "apoplexy, " which is a stroke. This is what was reported by Harvard's Houghton Library last year. Now that the testing is complete, this is official.

According to The New York Times today, when this first came to light a few months ago, that it was believed this book was bound with human skin, it sparked a slew of "Hannibal Lecter" jokes online. The book's title translated into English is "On Destiny of the Soul."

Doctor Bouland had included a note with the volume which he donated to the Harvard Houghton Library in 1934. The note described how to authenticate the human skin used to bound the book. The note included:

"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. ..."

While this is the only book in the Harvard Library that is bound with human skin, it was at one time considered an appropriate practice. The Wellcome Library in London has another book that is bound with human skin. That human-bound book is from the 17th century.


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