The macabre, 17th-century book tells the story of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and is covered in the hide of Father Henry Garnet.
The priest, at the time the head of the Jesuits in England, was executed May 3, 1606, outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London for his alleged role in a Catholic plot to detonate 36 barrels of gunpowder beneath the British Parliament, an act that would have killed the Protestant King James I and other government leaders.
The book, "A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings Against the Late Most Barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuit and His Confederates," contains accounts of speeches and evidence from the trials. It measures about 6 inches by 4 inches, comes in a wooden box and will be auctioned Dec. 2 by Wilkinson's Auctioneers in Doncaster, England.
This was not an uncommon practice in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. According to Dan Alban of the Harvard Record, there may well be hundreds of books in libraries around the world, mainly from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, that have been bound in human skin. There is even one at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia that has a tattoo. Some people deliberately bequeathed their skin to be used in this manner; however, Alban writes:
The skin of executed criminals was occasionally used for book bindings. The first known example of this was the binding of Samuel Johnson's dictionary in the skin of criminal James Johnson (relation unknown), after the latter was hung in Norwich in 1818. The museum of Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, England contains a more famous example - an account of the trial proceedings against William Corder, perpetrator of the storied 'Murder in the Red Barn' of Maria Martin in 1827, bound in the executed murderer's skin.
The book in the photo below is the account of Corder's trial.
In another lurid instance, a human-hide-bound book appears to have been provided as a keepsake to a survivor:
"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."