Harvard University made a nasty discovery: a few years ago, three separate books were found in Harvard University's library that had particularly strange-looking leather covers. Upon further inspection, it was discovered that the smooth binding was actually human flesh... And, in one case, skin allegedly harvested from a man who was flayed alive. Yaiks.
As it turns out, the practice of using human skin to bind books was actually pretty popular during the 17th century (!). It's referred to as Anthropodermic bibliopegy and proved pretty common when it came to anatomical textbooks (there's a hidden pun there, see if you can find it!). Medical professionals would often use the flesh of cadavers they'd dissected during their research. "Let us not waste that corpse, says I!"
Harvard's creepy books deal with Roman poetry, French philosophy, and a treatise on medieval Spanish law for which the above mentioned flayed skin was supposedly used. The book, Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias… has a very interesting inscription inside, check it out:
"The book’s 794th and final page includes an inscription in purple cursive: ‘the bynding of this booke is all that remains of my dear friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Mbesa did give me the book, it being one of poore Jonas chiefe possessions, together with ample of his skin to bynd it. Requiescat in pace."
Years later, the infamous "flayed skin book" had garnered so much attention on campus that Harvard went ahead and had the thing tested, concluding that it was likely a morbid 17th century joke. Despite the creepy inscription, their tests showed that the book's cover was actually made out of a mixture of "cattle and pig collagen". Hey, two genuine flesh-books out of three ain't bad.
According to Director of University Libraries Sidney Verba '53, there are almost certainly more of the human flesh-books out there, but while it's possible to touch the two identified skin-books in Harvard's rare book room, the librarians aren't exactly fond of all the attention they've received lately. In fact, they've made it a point to downplay their ownership of the real flesh-bound books in favor of reminding the media that one of them is fake.