Something macabre for your October? Herein lies the rare but real tradition of binding books in human leather. 🤢

The queasy need not concern themselves with the strange and morbid work of one Megan Rosenbloom, a rare books specialist and librarian at UCLA. Rosenbloom's fascination for rare books and death combine in her new book, Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin.

Rosenbloom is aware of how unconventional and uncomfortable her subject matter is, but believes that death is worth discussing even when it's strange. As a rare books librarian, obituary editor, and leader in the Death Positive movement, Rosenbloom is uniquely situated what seems at first-hearing like a spooky Halloween story.

"What is going on why would you use human skin ew"

Your reaction to books bound in human skin might say something about you. The official name for the process of binding books in skin is called anthropodermic bibliopegy. One might think that a crazy cultist or some kind of witch would make such a book. The New York Times writer James Hamblin thought human-skin books were "associated with the Nazis" since "they were long rumored to have made lampshades out of human skin."

Rosenbloom's book shares her findings, brought to life through interviews with librarians, historians, collectors, and doctors. Some quick notes about anthropodermic bibliopegy:

  • The practice is uncommon, with only about 50 alleged examples of human-skin-books worldwide.
  • Human skin leather is identical to leather from other mammals, so DNA testing is needed to confirm.
  • Making human leather is pretty much like making animal leather and involves tanning, soaking, and scraping the “hides”
  • Turns out there's no evidence that the Nazis did it; go figure.

Here's a case of someone who did make a human book.

John Stockton Hough was a Philadelphia physician in the late 19th century. When a local woman named Mary Lynch died at 28 years old in 1869 of tuberculosis and parasitic infection, Hough made three textbooks out of her skin. Dr. Hough removed and preserved skin from Mary Lynch's thighs during her autopsy, which he then used for the covers and binding of his medical books. 

Why did he do this? Rosenbloom suggests it might be some kind of homage, but admits that it's tough to understand. 

“It’s easier to believe that objects of human skin are made by monsters like Nazis and serial killers, not the well-respected doctors the likes of whom parents want their children to become someday," Rosenbloom writes.

The real issue highlighted here is an ethical one about consent. I mean, would you be okay if someone made a book out of you, then passed it around musty old collections? 

Phew, thanks for reading—I felt like I had to share this creepy tale. What's your reaction to it? Leave a comment!