Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book Cover Made of Human Skin

Even if its 400 years old, looks parched and feels smooth the very thought of touching a book made from human skin, let alone bidding on it at auction, just creeps me out. The fact that it is the skin of Father Henry Garnet, an imprisoned Jesuit priest, that suffered the punishment of a hangman's noose execution, adds to the macabre mystique for the the serious collector of these things. It's a unique, um pardon the meaty pun, rare artifact for the serious hardcore bibliophile with a cast iron stomach and plenty of cash to cede as the highest bidder.

In the early 1600's england was a hotbed of royal intrigues. Since time immemorial, desperate humans have sought various and sundry ways to kill people who were obstructing their aims for good or ill. Catholic King James I was the target of murder plots and the Jesuit stood accused of being part of the "Gunpowder Plot" to kill the king and blow up parliament. There is controversy amongst scholars as to the validity of the evidence against him. But suffice it to say somebody was still pissed off enough to use a good portion of his skin as the book covering for the long-winded title, A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings Against the Late Most Barbarous Traitors, Garnet, a Jesuit and his Confederates.

It is anyone's guess how much the book, which was made in London in 1606 by Robert Barker, the king's printer, just months after Garnet's execution, will fetch when it goes under the hammer at Wilkinson's Auctioneers in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Sid Wilkinson, the auctioneer, said: "Because the subject matter is so strange, we thought putting an estimate on it might be a bit vulgar.

"It could make £1,000, it could make hundreds, we just don't know."

He said the book is so rare Wilkinson's had never auctioned one before, but added that making books out of convicts' skin was not an entirely unusual practice.

There are spooky and eerie claims from an eager auctioneer that the face of the presumably Good father can be seen in the cover of the book. Just the thing one wants staring at them on a dark and stormy night when the lights flicker out and the floorboards creak of their own accord.

Nina G. Jablonski details the pigments and history of human coverings in Skin: A Natural History. It was terribly fitting...

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