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Anthropodermic Bibliopegy: Lessons From a Different Sort of Dermatologic Text

Anthropodermic Bibliopegy: Lessons From a Different Sort of Dermatologic Text The practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy—the use of human skin for the binding of printed books and manuscripts—dates back several centuries, with examples reported from nations in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.1 Individuals whose skin has been used for anthropodermic bindings range from authors and scientists who willingly donated their bodies upon their deaths to criminals and the infirm whose corpses were used for binding of texts on law and medicine. Several texts bound in tanned, leatherized human skin are preserved and held in private and academic collections around the world.2 One such book, “Des destinees de l’ame,” by Arsène Houssaye, resides in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.3 It dates to 1880s France and focuses on the afterlife and theories of the human soul. The author inscribed a message commenting on the text’s theme and its juxtaposition with human skin binding, including the following translated excerpt: This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance…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.3 On examination of the bookbinding, numerous follicular ostia are clearly visible and provide a raised, coarse texture to the front and back covers (Figure). The pages are gilt-edged. The bookbinding has an even, golden-brown background hue. Focal areas of darker brown pigmentation likely reflect variation in the literal “skin tanning” process underlying the binding’s production and consequences of handling over the book’s existence rather than melanocytic proliferations in the native skin based on examination with epiluminescence microscopy. Figure. View LargeDownload Front Cover of the 19th Century Book From France Bound in Human Skin Two other works in the collection of the Harvard University libraries that are putative (although not conclusively documented) anthropodermic texts dating from 16th century Spain and France were also examined, and, while in more delicate condition, they show similarly prominent follicular ostia throughout. The exact human source and body site of origination for these bindings has not been described. While an uncommon undertaking, anthropodermic bibliopegy represents an historical practice of interest to dermatologists. These works provide insights into the preservation of and fascination with human skin over the past several centuries and serve as reminders of the versatility of the body’s largest organ—both during life and beyond. Detailed analysis of preserved parameters such as follicle density, follicular diameter, and pigmentary patterns may unlock additional understanding of the historical sources and contexts of such works. Anthropodermically bound books represent an elite class of dermatologic texts which deserve further study, cover to cover. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Vinod E. Nambudiri, MD, MBA, Department of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School, 55 Fruit St, Bartlett Hall, Sixth Floor, Boston, MA 02114 (vnambudiri@partners.org). Additional Contributions: The staff of the Harvard University Libraries provided assistance in accessing the examined works. References 1. Cuskelly M. Original Skin: Exploring the Marvels of the Human Hide. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint; 2011:164-165. 2. Guelle LA. Anthropodermic book-bindings. Trans Stud Coll Physicians Phila. 2002;24:85-89.PubMedGoogle Scholar 3. Houssaye A. In: Calman L, ed. Des destinées de l'ame. Paris, France: Ancienne Maison Michel Levy Frères; 1880s. In the collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University, call No. FC8.H8177.879dc. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png JAMA Dermatology American Medical Association

Anthropodermic Bibliopegy: Lessons From a Different Sort of Dermatologic Text

JAMA Dermatology , Volume 150 (1) – Jan 1, 2014

Anthropodermic Bibliopegy: Lessons From a Different Sort of Dermatologic Text

Abstract

The practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy—the use of human skin for the binding of printed books and manuscripts—dates back several centuries, with examples reported from nations in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.1 Individuals whose skin has been used for anthropodermic bindings range from authors and scientists who willingly donated their bodies upon their deaths to criminals and the infirm whose corpses were used for binding of texts on law and medicine. Several texts bound in...
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Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
2168-6068
eISSN
2168-6084
DOI
10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.7473
pmid
24430228
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

The practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy—the use of human skin for the binding of printed books and manuscripts—dates back several centuries, with examples reported from nations in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.1 Individuals whose skin has been used for anthropodermic bindings range from authors and scientists who willingly donated their bodies upon their deaths to criminals and the infirm whose corpses were used for binding of texts on law and medicine. Several texts bound in tanned, leatherized human skin are preserved and held in private and academic collections around the world.2 One such book, “Des destinees de l’ame,” by Arsène Houssaye, resides in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.3 It dates to 1880s France and focuses on the afterlife and theories of the human soul. The author inscribed a message commenting on the text’s theme and its juxtaposition with human skin binding, including the following translated excerpt: This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance…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.3 On examination of the bookbinding, numerous follicular ostia are clearly visible and provide a raised, coarse texture to the front and back covers (Figure). The pages are gilt-edged. The bookbinding has an even, golden-brown background hue. Focal areas of darker brown pigmentation likely reflect variation in the literal “skin tanning” process underlying the binding’s production and consequences of handling over the book’s existence rather than melanocytic proliferations in the native skin based on examination with epiluminescence microscopy. Figure. View LargeDownload Front Cover of the 19th Century Book From France Bound in Human Skin Two other works in the collection of the Harvard University libraries that are putative (although not conclusively documented) anthropodermic texts dating from 16th century Spain and France were also examined, and, while in more delicate condition, they show similarly prominent follicular ostia throughout. The exact human source and body site of origination for these bindings has not been described. While an uncommon undertaking, anthropodermic bibliopegy represents an historical practice of interest to dermatologists. These works provide insights into the preservation of and fascination with human skin over the past several centuries and serve as reminders of the versatility of the body’s largest organ—both during life and beyond. Detailed analysis of preserved parameters such as follicle density, follicular diameter, and pigmentary patterns may unlock additional understanding of the historical sources and contexts of such works. Anthropodermically bound books represent an elite class of dermatologic texts which deserve further study, cover to cover. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Vinod E. Nambudiri, MD, MBA, Department of Dermatology, Harvard Medical School, 55 Fruit St, Bartlett Hall, Sixth Floor, Boston, MA 02114 (vnambudiri@partners.org). Additional Contributions: The staff of the Harvard University Libraries provided assistance in accessing the examined works. References 1. Cuskelly M. Original Skin: Exploring the Marvels of the Human Hide. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint; 2011:164-165. 2. Guelle LA. Anthropodermic book-bindings. Trans Stud Coll Physicians Phila. 2002;24:85-89.PubMedGoogle Scholar 3. Houssaye A. In: Calman L, ed. Des destinées de l'ame. Paris, France: Ancienne Maison Michel Levy Frères; 1880s. In the collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University, call No. FC8.H8177.879dc.

Journal

JAMA DermatologyAmerican Medical Association

Published: Jan 1, 2014

References