Anthropodermic bibliopegy: Milton bound in human skin

Posted by Glennis Byron on February 28, 2011 in News tagged with , ,

A rather unusual edition of The Poetical Works of John Milton is currently on exhibition in the Westcountry Studies Library in Exeter: it is bound in the skin of Devon murderer George Cudmore, hanged at the Devon County Gaol (now Exeter Prison) in 1830.

Cudmore was a ratcatcher from Roborough and was convicted of poisoning his wife. Tony Rouse, senior assistant librarian, notes that while binding books in human skin is not common, it is not unusual. Many of the first books to be covered in human skin were medical books, the skins being from amputated body parts and unclaimed corpses.

The technical term for books bound in human skin is ‘anthropodermic bibliopegy’. In a 2005 article in the Harvard Law Record, Dan Alban discusses a number of these books, including one in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia with a visible tattoo. For a brief history of this practice see Alban’s article here.

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