• <b>Cowan’s Auctions: An Eclectic Collection: The Library of the Late Dr. Ivan Gilbert of Columbus.<br>June 5-26</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Voyages and Travel] Churchill's Voyages 1732 - Complete in 6 Volumes.<br>$5,000 - $7,500.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Illustrated] Alice by Salvador Dali, Signed and Limited. $3,000 - $5,000
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Literature] The Little Prince - Signed/Limited First French Edition, 1943; #61 of 260. $5,000 - $7,500
    <b>Cowan’s Auctions: An Eclectic Collection: The Library of the Late Dr. Ivan Gilbert of Columbus.<br>June 5-26</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Literature] Gone With The Wind, 1st in DJ, May, 1936. $1,500 - $2,500
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Literature - Modern Firsts] Rare Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer, Obelisk Press Paris - 1934. $2,000 - $3,000
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [[Sporting - Fishing] Rare - Lee Sturges, Salmon Fishing New Brunswick, 1 of 50 Printed - 7 Original Etchings.<br>$4,000 - $6,000
    <b>Cowan’s Auctions: An Eclectic Collection: The Library of the Late Dr. Ivan Gilbert of Columbus.<br>June 5-26</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Voyages and Travel - Maritime] Rare Ledyard Account of Cook's Last Voyage, 1783 Hartford, Howes "d".<br>$10,000 - $15,000
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Illustrated - Maxfield Parrish] Knave of Hearts, Scribner's, 1st Hardback Edition, 1925 Parrish Illustrations.<br>$750 - $1,000
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Bible - Illustrated - Cartography) Massive Dutch Bible, 1682, Contemporary Colored Maps, Working Brass Clasps. $2,500 - $3,500
    <b>Cowan’s Auctions: An Eclectic Collection: The Library of the Late Dr. Ivan Gilbert of Columbus.<br>June 5-26</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Women Suffrage - Civil Rights - Autographs] A Unique Extra-Illustrated Life of Susan B. Anthony. $15,000 - $20,000
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [18th Century French Manuscript] Unpublished History of Belle-Isle-En-Mer, 1754 With Watercolor Illustration.<br>$10,000 - $15,000
    <b>Cowan’s, June 5-26:</b> [Illustrated - Children's - Movable] Wonderful 19th Century Lothar Meggendorfer Moveable Book. $750 - $1,000
  • <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s:<br>De la musique avant toute chose… June 28, 2017</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Roland de Lassus. [Songs and madrigals]. Album gathering three collections of secular music for tenor. 15.000-20.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Richard Wagner. <i>Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.</i> Original edition corrected and annotated by Wagner. 60.000-80.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Claude Debussy. <i>La Damoiselle élue</i>. Lyrical poem, after D.-G. Rossetti. Limited edition of 160 copies. 6.000-8.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s:<br>De la musique avant toute chose… June 28, 2017</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Stéphane Mallarmé. Handwritten notebook made by Geneviève Mallarmé. No place or date [circa 1910]. 10.000-15.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Henri Sauguet. <i>Les Forains</i>. Ballet. Reduction for piano. Original edition. 20.000-30.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Athanasius Kircher. <i>Musurgia Universalis sive Ars Magna Consoni et Dissoni in X. Libros digesta.</i> 1650. 30.000-40.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s:<br>De la musique avant toute chose… June 28, 2017</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> François Villon, & Clément Marot. <i>Les Œuvres de François Villon de Paris, Reviewed and gathered by Clement Marot.</i> 15.000-20.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Rainer Maria Rilke. <i>Larenopfer</i> (Offrande aux dieux Lares). The second collection of Rainer Maria Rilke, containing ninety poems. 6.000-8.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Paul Éluard. <i>Capitale de la douleur.</i> One of the most beautiful poetic collections from the first surrealist wave. 15.000-20.000 €
    <b>Pierre Bergé and Associés in association with Sotheby’s, Jun 28:</b> Pierre de Ronsard. <i>Les Amours</i> ... newly augmented by him, and commented by Marc Antoine de Muret. 40.000-60.000 €
  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July 8: Rare Books & Manuscripts</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Walter Gibson's Complete Run of The Shadow. 48 bound volumes, 1931-44. $8,000-12,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Frederic Shoberl, The World in Miniature: Hindoostan. 6 volumes. $2,000-4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> A Rare Copy of the Earliest Chicago Newspaper to Report on the Great Fire of 1871. $6,000-8,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July 8: Rare Books & Manuscripts</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Broadside Proclamation by Mayor Roswell B. Mason for the Preservation of Good Order Following the Great Fire of 1871. Chicago. $4,000-6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page. Scarce and highly collectable. $15,000-20,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> John Quincy Adams. The Jubilee of the Constitution. A Discourse. First edition. Inscribed. 1839. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July 8: Rare Books & Manuscripts</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Cuban Revolution: Expedicion y Desembarco del “Granma.” Havana, ca. 1959. With portraits of the Castro brothers & Che Guevara. $150-250
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Osuna Ramos. A group of 28 photographs of the Mexican Revolution & aftermath in Mexico City, 1910-1920. 4½ x 6”. $400-600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Charles Bukowski. Hot Water Music. First edition with original signed painting. 1983. $2,000-4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July 8: Rare Books & Manuscripts</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Alan Ginsberg. Five Page Autographed Letter. Signed. February 10, 1971. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Andy Warhol’s Children’s Book. Featuring 12 color illustrations. Signed 5 times. 1983. $5,000-7,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions July 8:</b><br> Albrecht Durer. The Martyrdom Saint John the Evangelist. Woodcut, 1511 edition. $1,000-2,000
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Online Sale of Cricket Books and Works on Paper. Now through July 5, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, now thru Jul 5:</b> Wisden (John). <i>Cricketers' Almanack for 1896</i>, original cloth, 1896. £15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, now thru Jul 5:</b> Wisden (John). <i>The Cricketers' Almanack for the year 1869</i>, excellent copy of the scarce sixth edition, 1869. £10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, now thru Jul 5:</b> Wisden (John). <i>Cricketers' Almanack for 1916</i>, with tribute to W.G. Grace by Lord Harris, original cloth, 1916. £5,000 to 6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Online Sale of Cricket Books and Works on Paper. Now through July 5, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, now thru Jul 5:</b> Lillywhite (Frederick) and Arthur Haygarth. <i>Cricket Scores and Biographies of Celebrated Cricketers</i>, vol. 1 - 16 [a complete run], 1862-2003. £750 to 1,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, now thru Jul 5:</b> Trumper (Victor). Postcard of Victor Trumper, signed by Trumper on image, 1905. £300 to 400
    <b>Forum Auctions, now thru Jul 5:</b> Crombie (Charles). <i>Laws of Cricket</i>, 1907; and 29 others. £150 to 200

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2017 Issue

Who Skinned James Allen? The “Skin Book”

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There is, in the vaults of the private library Boston Athenaeum (BA), a peculiar book with a creepy sentence written in Latin on its front cover: Hic liber Waltonis cute compactus est—this book is bound in the skin of Walton. This “skin book”, as it is affectionately referred to, tells the story of James Allen, alias George Walton, a notorious Bostonian highwayman, who died in prison in 1837; a guy who had crime under his skin.



This regular in-8° (25 x15 cm) book of 32 pages is entitled Narrative of the Life of James Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, The Highwayman. Being His Death-bed Confession, to the Warden of the Massachusetts State Prison (Boston, 1837). It can be viewed on appointment only, since it is “one of the rarest books in the rare book collection of the Boston Athenaeum, America’s oldest private membership library (it was founded in 1807),” reads the website of the library. It is also available as a PDF file featuring, of course, the front cover—but the rest of the file apparently comes from another unbound copy. The BA is very proud of this curiosity—it is, to be honest, a fascinating and attractive artefact, especially in Boston, said to be one of the most haunted cities in America.” (Ghosts & Gravestones Boston Frightseeing Tour).



The criminal life of a villain bound in his own skin will sure make you jump out of your skin! But is this story true? “Yes!” the Rialto website affirms, before telling us of a mysterious visitor, who paid the library a visit “a few months ago”: The visitor’s grandfather, Peter Low, had come to Boston from London, where his father and grandfather were in the book business. Here he was engaged in bookbinding for the Old Corner Book Store and other clients. The grandson relates the story that the skin used for binding Walton’s book came from Massachusetts General Hospital on the very day of his death. Walton was a Jamaican mulatto, and the skin, taken from his back, had been treated to look like a greydeer skin.” Did the binder sign his work? The BA says nothing about it, and it is quite unlikely: “Peter Low had not realized at first the precise nature of the material placed in his hands. By the time his day’s work was done, however, he was in great distress of mind and nightmares filled the night that followed.” Oh boy, just like in a Gothic novel!



The society of the depraved



James Allen, alias George Walton, was a petty thief. Orphaned at a young age, he grew up on his own, in an unfriendly world. Things got worse when he was first incarcerated in October 1824, aged 15, for stealing a bundle of cloth: “In a short time, (...) jail scenes and the society of the depraved and vicious became familiar, and I lost, in a good degree, the tender feelings which influenced me on being first committed.” As a matter of fact, he mentions one Purchase, a jail mate incarcerated for burning his grandmother alive—for he’s a jolly good fellow! Released, he teamed up with William Ross, in Boston. “He was a famous rogue, and was afterwards executed in Canada (...) for robbing a priest,” he says. Under such tutorship, Allen became a regular burglar and highwayman—but he avoided killing people, unless necessary. Allen had principles. “No one but a coward would take human life,” he says. “Except in self defence (...); and even if I was robbing a man, and found it necessary to kill him in order to save my own life, I should not think it wrong; it would be merely acting in self defence”—for he’s a jolly good fellow!



In 1825, Allen was back to prison. But “I suffer nothing, if possible, to trouble my mind.” In 1831, he was sentenced to 2 years of hard labour in the State prison, where he “enjoyed the opportunity of reading many books, principally of moral and religious character.” Yet he made it clear in his memoirs that he “did not intend to lead an honest life. On the day of my discharge from prison, I purchased (…) a pair of pistols, of six inch barrel.” Shortly afterwards, while operating near the Salem Turnpike, he pointed them at one John Fenno, whom he intended to rob. Yet, Mr Fenno fought back, forcing his aggressor to shoot him“not intending, however, to kill him”; though it looks like an obvious case of self-defence, doesn’t it? The victim suffered but a minor injury; yet his act of bravery “impressed Allen so much that he asked to have a copy of his memoir bound in skin from his own back and presented to Fenno.” How lovely! In fact, according to the catalogue of the BA, Fenno went to see Allen in jail before he passed away. “Soon after, possibly at Fenno’s urging, Allen began to narrate his story.” Their sources? A series of letters owned by the library between the librarian of the Boston Medical Library, John A. Fenno, and the grandson of John Fenno. Despite their accuracy, they are dated November through December 1921, almost a century after the events. On the other hand, that would explain why Allen sent this scary copy to Fenno.

 

A consumption terminated his life in 1837

 

The story of the “skin book” seems relevant enough. But some questions remain unanswered. For instance, the narrative of James Allen abruptly stops at page 30: “At this stage of the narrative, Walton becoming subject to a severe cough, and feeling unable to continue any further dictation,” resumes the narrator—the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison—, “requested it might be finished by those to whose authority he was subjected.” After a while, Allen “was admitted as a patient in the hospital, affected with influenza. It finally settled with a consumption, which terminated his life on the 17th of July, 1837.

 

But how come he never mentions his desire to send his memoirs to Fenno—or that he dictated them on his demand? No doubt, that would have been an interesting thing to write. Not a word about his skin either. The catalogue of the BA gives further details: “Before his death, Allen asked that enough of his skin be tanned to provide bindings for two copies of these memoirs, one for John Fenno, Jr., and the other for his attending physician, Dr. Henry I. Bowditch. (...) A sufficient piece of skin was removed from Allen’s back and taken to a local tannery, where it was treated to look like grey deerskin and finally delivered into the hands of Peter Low.” But how did it end up at the BA? “Our records do not contain any precise information (...) about when it entered the collection,” confesses the catalogue. “Anecdotal sources suggest that this copy was John Fenno’s and that it was presented to the Library sometime before 1864 by his daughter, Mrs. H. M. Chapin.” So what about the story of Low’s grandson? This point is dubious, to say the least. Rialto’s website reads, in 2011, that Low’s grandson came to the library “a few months ago”. But such a scene should have taken place, if it ever did, in the late 19th century. At the end of the day, can we be sure that we have here a book bound in human skin? No matter how hard it might be to admit, it is very hard to tell a human skin from a goat one.

 

 

Bound in the skin of women’s breasts

 

Several other books are supposedly bound in human skin. One from the Wellcome Collection, London, was, according to a handwritten note slipped inside, bound in the “tanned skin of the Negro whose execution caused the war of Independence*”. But it turned out that it was not the case. Their online catalogue confirms: “Originally thought to be an example of anthropodermic bibliopegy (human skin binding). This is now known to be false.” On the contrary, Rambert, a French murderer, definitely had his memoirs bound in his own tattooed skin in the 1930s. The remains of the English murderer William Burke were also extensively exploited—his skeleton is still displayed at the University of Edinburgh. Shortly after his execution, in 1829, “there was a public dissection and it was reported that part of the skin went missing and then soon after this book turned up for sale in Edinburgh," declared Emma Black from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh's museum to the BBC, which is no proof.

 

During the French Revolution, some books were allegedly bound in the skins of some beheaded Nobles—the revolutionaries loved to make pants with their skins, as it seems. The rumor had it that a tannery was then opened to deal with those specific skins. We know about at least one copy of the French Constitution (1791) bound in human skin—it is to be found at the Carnavalet library, Paris. The French bookseller from the Librairie Heurtebise recently drew an extensive list of various books bound in human skins. Among other things, he writes: “There are several attested erotic books bound in the skin of women’s breasts, the nipples being used as decorative elements.” Beauty is only skin deep, as they say.

 

Human flesh bindings do exist. They instill fear, disgust and fascination into our—yet living—hearts. As such, they have always been surrounded with mystery, suspicion and sometimes forgery. There are as many ways to attract attention as to skin a cat.

 

* A reference to Cripus Attucks, the first man killed by the British during the Boston Massacre (1770).

 

© T. Ehrengardt

 

Boston Athenaeum: www.bostonathenaeum.org

The University of Edinburgh: www.ed.ac.uk/biomedical-sciences/anatomy

The Wellcome Collection: catalogue.wellcomelibrary.org/record=b2124384

BBC: www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27903742

Blog: librairieheurtebise.over-blog.com

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Sotheby’s London: English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations, including The Garrett Herman Collection: The Age of Darwin. July 11, 2017</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul 11:</b> Austen, Jane. Autograph letter, written in the third person, to her niece Anna Austen (later Lefroy), 1812. £80,000 to 100,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul 11:</b> Smith, Adam. <i>An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations</i>. London: Printed for W. Strahan; And T. Cadell, 1776. £50,000 to 70,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul 11:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life</i>. John Murray, 1859. £50,000 to 70,000
    <b>Sotheby’s London: English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations, including The Garrett Herman Collection: The Age of Darwin. July 11, 2017</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul 11:</b> Dickens, Charles. Autograph draft manuscript of "Mrs Gamp with the Strolling Players,” 1847. £40,000 to 60,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul 11:</b> Shepard, E.H. Two drawings from <i>Winnie-The-Pooh</i> comprising “Why, what’s the matter?” and “He was taking the balloon out…” £40,000 to 60,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jul 11:</b> Blake, William. <i>Illustrations of the Book of Job. Invented and Engraved by William Blake. Published as the Act Directs...By William Blake, 8 March 1825</i> [1826]. £20,000 to 30,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Inviting Quality Consignments</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 30:</b> Carte-de-visite album featuring a previously unrecorded image of Harriet Tubman, 1860s. Sold for $161,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 7:</b> Hovhannes Amira Dadian, first world atlas in Armenian, Venice, 1849. Sold for $37,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 16:</b> T.E. Lawrence, <i>Seven Pillars of Wisdom</i>, privately printed edition, inscribed, London, 1926. Sold for $62,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Inviting Quality Consignments</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 14:</b> 22 large-format photographs from NASA missions, 1965-84. Sold for $43,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21: </b> Charles M. Schulz, <i>Here Comes the Big Polar Bear</i>, pen & ink, 4-panel Peanuts comic strip, 1957. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 4:</b> Elliott Erwitt, photograph of JFK & Eisenhower, signed by both, 1960. Sold for $32,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Inviting Quality Consignments</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 9:</b> John Milton, <i>Paradise Lost</i>, first edition, London, 1668. Sold for $22,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 30:</b> Frederick Douglass, Autograph Letter Signed to George Alfred Townsend, Washington, 1880. Sold for $100,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jan 26:</b> <i>Les Maîtres de l'Affiche</i>, 5 volumes, Paris, 1896-1900. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Inviting Quality Consignments</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 16:</b> James Joyce, <i>Ulysses</i>, first edition, number 724 on handmade paper, Paris, 1922. Sold for $33,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 9:</b> Single leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, Mainz, 1455, in a copy of Newton's <i>A Noble Fragment</i>. Sold for $52,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 27:</b> The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, NY, 1830. Sold for $52,500.
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.

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