Historical information

The practice of binding books in human skin is known as anthropodermic bibliopegy. It was officially practiced since the 17th century. The technique gained considerable popularity during the French Revolution and among the upper classes in the 19th century. The technique was used to bind such texts as anatomy books, last will and testaments, prayer books and judicial proceedings. (http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-books-wrapped-in-human-skin.php, accessed 04/02/2014) Rising in popularity during the 17th and 18th Centuries, the practice of binding books in human skin, anthropodermic bibliopegy, fell off due to its macabre nature near the end of the Victorian Age. Physicians enjoyed the practice, often using human skin, regardless of the source, to bind anatomy texts. RELATED In the 1800s, binding a book with your own dead skin made a lovely gift Skin-bound books may sound like weird artifacts that belong in Evil Dead movies or Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. But from the 1600s to 1800s, these … Read… A few examples of books with anthropodermic binding are bound out of affection for the author, but most early examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy are the result of human skin claimed from medical cadavers or criminals sentenced to death, with their skin used to bound the record of their trials as a form of punishment that surpasses death. The tanning process often destroys DNA traces, so it's hard to identify the "donor." This leaves inscriptions and historical records as the most common methods for identifying books bound in human skin. How can you tell if you've got some human leather instead of cow hide? Human leather has a different pore size and shape than pig or calf skin along with a bizarre waxy smell, allowing fraudulent books to be identified. (http://io9.com/5886724/anthropodermic-bibliopegy-or-the-truth-about-books-bound-in-human-skin, accessed 04/02/2014) Subject matter relates to the Christian religion and its interpretation in sixteenth century UK. Father Thomas Bilson (1547-1616) preached at Paules Crosse and elsewhere in London. He was an Anglican Bishop of Worcester and Bishop of Winchester. A copy of this book is available for viewing at http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Effect_of_Certain_Sermons_Touching_the_F.html?id=EQFK3UQFNWQC&redir_esc=y where it is described in the following manner: "This volume presents the effect of certain sermons wherein besides the merit of Christ's suffering, the manner of his suffering, the power of his death, the comfort of his cross, the glory of his resurrection, are handled; what pains Christ suffered in his soul on the cross, together with the place and purpose of his descent to hell after death, with a conclusion to the reader for the clearing of certain objections made against the said doctrine. " This book is puritanical in nature, and thought to be similar to the 'Black Dog of Bungey Treatise'. The writer attempts to integrate classical writers in the hermetic traditions into puritanical thought, with a major focus on why Jesus descended to hell for three days after his cruxifiction. The book was owned by the son of Thomas Bilson who, along with Miles Smith, oversaw the final printing and publication of the King James Bible. He is buried in south ambulatory Westminster Abbey. This book, written by Thomas Bilson (1547 - 18 June 1616) Bishop of Worcester and Bishop of Winchester, is an articulation for the necessity of a literal hell in Christian belief was a central component of the Descensus controversy which formed part of the religious background to the English Civil War. The primary argument articulated in this book is that the metaphorical Calvinist interpretation of Hell as an exclusion from God was accurate then Christ's descent into hell after his crucifixion must refer ro an actual existent hell as Christ was neither subject to sin nor able to be separated from the Divine. This led to a number of attacks on Bilson personally and was also utilised as a vehicle by Roman Catholics to attack the metaphorical approach to the supernatural taken by Anglican Conformists during the late 16th century. As a result the book sits between the Calvinist metaphorical approach to heaven, hell and the supernatural taken by conformists and the more overtly literalist approach taken by Roman Catholics and those more sympathetic to literalist and supernaturalist interpretations of scripture. The discussion area is part of the broader 16th century debates surrounding the "Harrowing of Hell" and the role of the supernatural in the Anglican Church. (research by David Waldron)


This book is historically and spiritually significant because it is a rare example of an early printed English Christian religious tract produced in Old English and Latin.. Its association with Thomas Bilson, who oversaw the final printing and publication of the King James Bible, is important. The covering of this book has been tested for human dna. Findings suggest the book is covered with human skin, increasing the rarity of the object.

Physical description

420 page book with unusual leather cover. The book is written in Old English with passages in latin. There is a pressed petal between p.68 and 69. The covering of this book is made of human skin. The practice of binding books in human skin, also known as anthropodermic bibliopegy.

Inscriptions & markings

Inside cover - James Hendy No 17 (Fu)gends Road Palmers Village Westminster. The gift of his mother Mrs Thomas Hendy. Some notes made through text eg p.112, and a passage written on the last page.