Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. While not common today, there are believed to be hundreds of examples in libraries around the world, mainly from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. One notable example is a text in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia which has a tattoo.
Sometimes the skin is deliberately bequeathed by people wishing for it to be used in such manner, but there are some rather morbid cases where the skin of executed criminals was occasionally used for book bindings.
The museum of Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, England, for example, contains an account of the trial proceedings against William Corder, perpetrator of the infamous 'Murder in the Red Barn' of Maria Martin in 1827. The book, appropriately enough is bound in the executed murderer's skin!
The Red Barn Murder was a notorious murder committed in Polstead, Suffolk, England, in 1827. A young woman, Maria Marten, was shot dead by her lover, William Corder. The two had arranged to meet at the Red Barn, a local landmark, before eloping to Ipswich. Maria was never heard from again. Corder fled the scene and although he sent Marten's family letters claiming she was in good health, her body was later discovered buried in the barn after her stepmother claimed she had dreamt about the murder.
Corder was tracked down in London, where he had married and started a new life. He was brought back to Suffolk, and, after a well-publicised trial, found guilty of murder. He was hanged in Bury St. Edmunds in 1828; a huge crowd witnessed Corder's execution. The story provoked numerous articles in the newspapers, and songs and plays. The village where the crime had taken place became a tourist attraction and the barn was stripped by souvenir hunters. The plays and ballads remained popular throughout the next century and continue to be performed today.
Book bound in William Corder's skin
Another interesting example is a book bound in the skin of a Jesuit priest executed for his alleged role in the Gunpowder Plot:
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.
-Catholic News Service
Book bound in Father Henry Garnet's skin
As for the legalities of such practice today I am still unclear, but if anyone would like to bequeath some of their skin for such a purpose I would certainly look into it further!