Monthly Archives: December 2014

Books of Human Flesh: The History behind Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

Not for the faint-hearted, but this older blog post from the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice caught my eye. Using human skin to cover book bindings: Post-mortem punishment, commemoration or celebrity fetishization?

And here’s a more recent post on a pocket book covered in the nineteenth-century body snatcher William Burke’s skin by Lindsey Fitzharris on the same site.

With this cheating post, I’m taking a break from blogging until after Christmas break (i.e. the time to catch up on a load of stuff I should have been writing about ages ago!)

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice

Amongst a collection of medical oddities housed at the Surgeons’ Hall Museum in Edinburgh lies a tattered pocketbook [left], no longer than the length of a man’s hand. It is dark brown—nearly black—with a pebbled texture and gold lettering that has begun to fade with age. To the untrained eye, it is altogether unremarkable in its appearance. However, upon closer inspection, the words ‘EXECUTED 28 JAN 1829’ and ‘BURKE’S SKIN POCKET BOOK’ come into focus, revealing the item’s true origins.

This is a book bound in the flesh of William Burke, the notorious murderer. Between 1827 and 1828, Burke and his accomplice, William Hare, drugged and killed 16 people for the sole purpose of selling their bodies to the anatomist, Dr Robert Knox. During their murder trial, Hare turned King’s Evidence in exchange for immunity. Burke was eventually found guilty of the murders and hanged before [ironically] being dissected in…

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