In the Flesh? Anthropodermic Bibliopegy Verification and Its Implications

Jacob Gordon


Special collections hold a host of objects that lie outside the anticipated disintegrating newsprint or leather-bound tomes. Sometimes the items, at least as far as their provenance informs, appear to be rather abnormal. Within the Cassel Collection, held at Beeghly Library at Juniata College, was one such volume: Bibliotheca Politica. Abraham H. Cassel (1820–1908) collected widely during his lifetime, amassing a collection of 50,000 volumes. On the front flyleaf of Bibliotheca Politica, Cassel wrote: “This book [is] bound in human skin.” As will be seen, this is not a unique notation, nor is it unusual for such an inscription to be the only bit of information to suggest the binding material. Subsequent peptide mass fingerprinting of samples taken from the binding of Bibliotheca Politica proved it to be made of sheepskin. While this result led to a mingled sense of disappointment and relief, it did spark the author’s curiosity into this historical binding practice.

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