Harvard University owns a book covered in human skin. Literally.
— The Harvard Library (@HarvardLibrary) June 4, 2014
In a blog post published on Wednesday, the university announced that Houghton Library’s copy of Arsène Houssaye’s "Des destinées de l’ame" is "without a doubt bound in human skin."
Samples from the binding went through multiple tests before researchers concluded they were "99.9% confident that the binding is of human origin."
19th century French writer Houssaye's book is a collection of essays meditating on the soul and the after-life, according to Harvard.
As the story goes, Houssaye gave the book to his friend, Dr. Ludovic Bouland, who then had it rebound and left a manuscript note explaining why.
A translated excerpt follows:
“This book is bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament has been stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully you easily distinguish the pores of the skin. 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."
As The Atlantic reports, anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the practice of binding books in human skin, was "somewhat common" in the past.