Anthropodermic Bibliopegy is the name given to the use of human leather to bind books. The name stems from the combination of the Greek root words, human (Anthropos), skin (derma), book (biblion), and fasten (pegia).
The practice of creating anthropodermic books was popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Most commonly, anthropodermic books are medical tomes, with the human leather taken from medical cadavers. Others were produced after criminal trials, with the criminal’s skin used to enclose the record of their own death sentences, creating a form of punishment that would surpass death. Other anthropodermic books contain poems or are religious texts.
This book was written and printed in 1599 but most probably was rebound later when creation of anthropodermic books became more predominant. The book is a small tome of a religious nature containing the work of Bishop Thomas Bilson, who in a puritanical voice states that 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 to an actual existent hell as Christ was neither subject to sin nor able to be separated from the Divine.”
The unusual cover of the book has led to many questions, the main being whether the book is covered with human skin. It was confirmed as such in 2014 with DNA testing undertaken by honours student Talanna Buckley at Federation University finding an 100% match to human DNA on the outside cover of the book. This is one of only two confirmed anthropodermic books in Australia, the other is housed at the National Library of Australia.
Other forms of testing the leather of books have been found to be more accurate than DNA testing. For example, before DNA testing or PMF (Peptide Mass Fingerprinting) are undertaken many books have been identified as made from human skin through the close examination of the skins patterning. Hair follicles are the focus of the examination as certain patterns and sizes lend themselves to being human. However, many of these books have been proven to not be bound in human skin, the same can be said of books with inscriptions claiming them as anthropodermic. Peptide Mass Fingerprinting (PMF) testing has been found to be the most reliable way of confirming a leather bindings origin. This process involves the sampling of collagen-based materials, cutting the protein to gain specific amino acid combinations which form individual peptide sequences. Each mammal has an individual amino acid sequence in its collagen therefore its peptide mass combination is unique. This form of test can provide a more accurate outcome as collagen will be preserved for longer after the tanning process and will not be damaged in the same way DNA can be by the tanning process. DNA testing can also provide false positives as trace DNA from someone touching the book could be amplified and provide the reading instead of that of the leather itself. However, this book was tested with many controls as well as specific decontamination procedures in order to ensure that it was not trace DNA being tested.
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 prove the book is covered with human skin, increasing the rarity of the object.
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.