Thursday, December 9, 2010

Minding the Bind

Lately my pursuits have been directed to expanding my binding methods, so google has come in handy, as it does. However, if I had a wee apartment in Paris, I'd likely saunter down to Shakespeare & Co and hopefully climb a ladder with wheels to search for something suitable. Or go to the New York State Library and select some books, then sit down under one of their green library lights to read, and wish that I could see myself doing so.

Caught in the act...the act being the dream.

So as I searched, it was somewhat startling to come across the term Anthropodermic Bibliopegy... which is, in fact, the method of binding books using human skin. Now, being a vegan, I am mindful of the leather I use and ensure at all times it comes from recycled or reclaimed sources. I'll use the rest of what someone else is done with, or I'll use something that is no longer wanted, like a bag or an item of clothing.

But I'll stop short of skinning my leg (or someone else's) when I run out.

Apparently this kind of alarming practice dates back to the 17th century. As per Wikipedia, a rare book collection at the Langdell Law Library at Harvard University holds a book, Practicarum quaestionum circa leges regias Hispaniae, a treatise on Spanish law. A faint inscription on the last page of the book states:
"The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my deare friende Jonas Wright, who was flayed alive by the Wavuma on the Fourth Day of August, 1632. King Btesa 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."
(The Wavuma are believed to be an African tribe from the region now known as Zimbabwe. Flaying is the term used for being skinned alive). source: Wikipedia.

Yikes. There are many myths and legends surrounding this procedure, some of which are not linked to any certified truths, but one has to wonder...

So, I ask....

How different is it, then, that we as humans are skinning animals for the use of books? As pointed out, I am aware that this is happening and thus refrain from buying hides direct, and using what will be otherwise discarded. I would like to think the whole animal is being used, if it has been subject to death for its hide or other parts thereof. I choose not to eat animals, and feel more centered without the ingestion of dairy or meat. I put alot of love in to my bookbinding and want all my customers to know that the Bibliographica leather comes from recycled or reclaimed sources at all times.

What would have I been in the middle ages? A woman as a bookbinder? Highly unlikely. Possibly though, a bookbinder's wife, who, when her husband slept sneaked into his workshop to tinker a little...


  1. Most thoughtful, thought provoking and interesting Louise. Renaining mindful and selective the thing...

  2. Nice findings, I love these bits of history, even if creepy such as this :)

  3. Good to know that all your leather is recycled or reclaimed, Louise. As a vegetarian, I do the same with my jewellery (upholstery samples are a wonderful thing!). And I, too, feel better in myself – more 'centred' is a great way of putting it – for not eating meat.


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