Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Law Book Bindings of Human Skin
In my last post I spoke of David Murray's discussion of color coding law book bindings. A more sinister discussion of bindings for law books is to be found in Percy Fitzgerald's The Book Fancier. I have on my shelves the N.Y. edition published by Scribner & Welford in 1886. In that edition there is a discussion on pp.122-123 of two examples of the skin of executed criminals being used to bind law books. The first, according to Fitzgerald, a noted Edwardian book collector, essayist, and biographer, is a report of the criminal trial of one Corder for the murder of a young woman named Martin in a village near Bury St. Edmunds in England. This book is supposedly to be found in "a public library" in Bury. According to Fitzgerald a local surgeon removed skin from the executed murderer's body and tanned it so that it could be used for binding this volume. Fitzgerald notes that "human leather is darker and more mottled than vellum, of a rather coarse-textured surface, with holes in it like those in pigskin, but smaller and more sparse." The second example were "several volumes" from the Bristol Law Library, similarly bound in the flayed skins of executed criminals. I confess that I have not made any attempt to discover whether Fitzgerald's accounts of these grisly volumes are Edwardian "urban legends" or true, but I welcome any inofrmation readers might have.