Day Nine of the CMLE Summer Fun Library Tour!

The sharing of knowledge is our mission, but sometimes can be..kind of icky.

Houghton Library contains countless curiosities. Perhaps the most disturbing example is Arsène Houssaye’s Des destinées de l’ame (FC8.H8177.879dc), bound in human skin.

In the mid-1880s, Houssaye (1815-1896) presented his recent book, a meditation on the soul and life after death, to his friend Dr. Ludovic Bouland (1839-1932), a noted medical doctor and prominent bibliophile. Bouland bound the book with skin from the unclaimed body of a female mental patient who had died of a stroke.”

While books bound in human skin are now objects of fascination and revulsion, the practice was once somewhat common. Termed anthropodermic bibliopegy, the binding of books in human skin has occurred at least since the 16th century. The confessions of criminals were occasionally bound in the skin of the convicted, or an individual might request to be memorialized for family or lovers in the form of a book.

Although this is the only known example of an anthropodermic book in Houghton’s collection, Harvard libraries hold one other example: the Countway Library’s Center for the History of Medicine holds a French translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Lyon, 1597) which may have an anthropodermic binding.”


Libraries are amazing places. Sometimes you find things that are fascinating, sometimes they are kinda gross. Information is always important to have and to share; this is just another example of the huge breadth of ideas, materials, and services that exist in the library profession!