• <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Malcolm X, typed manuscripts for the <i>LA Herald Dispatch</i> column "God's Angry Men," 1957.<br>$200,000 to $300,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Frederick Douglass, Autograph Letter Signed to George Alfred Townsend, Washington, 1880.<br>$40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Carte-de-visite album featuring a previously unrecorded image of Harriet Tubman, 1860s.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Collection of documents from the Montgomery Improvement Association, Alabama, 1955-63. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Martin Luther King, Jr., working draft of the "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Alabama, 1963. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> <i>Benjamin Bannaker's Almanac</i> for 1795, Baltimore. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Collection of 41 letters addressed to Rebecca Primus, 1854-72.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Abby Fisher, <i>What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking</i>, first edition, San Francisco, 1881.<br>$10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Victor H. Green, <i>The Negro Motorist Green-Book for 1941</i>, New York, 1940. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar. 30:</b> Toni Morrison, <i>The Bluest Eye, </i>reviewer's copy, New York, 1971. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> THE PAPERS OF BREVET MAJOR GENERAL JOHN GROSS BARNARD (1815-1882), Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac. Estimate: $75,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> ALVIN LANGDON COBURN. London. With 20 photogravures by Coburn and text by Hilaire Belloc, London and New York: 1909. First edition. Est: $4,000-6,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> WILLIAM FADEN, A Plan of New York Island, with part of Long Island, Staten Island & East New Jersey. London: 1776. Estimate: $5,000-8,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> MAX BEERBOHM, Lord Curzon delivering an oration. Original drawing with collage. London, 1912. Est: $2,000-3,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> AMERICAN REVOLUTION, Recueil des Loix Constitutives des Colonies Angloises. A Philadelphie, et se vend a Paris: Cellot & Jombert, 1778. First collected edition in French. Estimate: $500-800
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN, Confederate General Joseph Johnston's copy of Sherman's General Orders No. 65 announcing the final agreement of Surrender, 27 April 1865. Est: $4,000-6,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> JOHN KEATS, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of Saint Agnes and Other Poems. London: Taylor and Hessey, 1820. First edition of Keats’s third book.. Estimate: $5,000-7,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> M. T. Cicero's Cato Major, or his discourse of Old-age: With Explanatory Notes. Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin, 1744. Est: $5,000-8,000
    <b>Doyle, Apr. 26:</b> WINSTON S CHURCHILL, History of the English Speaking Peoples. London: Cassell, 1956-58. First editions. Est: $1,500-2,500
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. March 30, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Potter (Beatrix). The Tale of Peter Rabbit, first edition, first issue, [1901]. Part of an extensive, private Beatrix Potter collection. £15,000 - 20,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Dodgson (Charles Lutwidge). The Hunting of the Snark, first edition, with original printed dust-jacket, 1876.<br>£7,000 - 9,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Buckland Wright (John). Pervigilium Veneris: The Vigil of Venus, number 1 of 100 copies (Christopher Sandford's copy), Golden Cockerel Press, 1939.<br>£2,000 - 3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. March 30, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Kelmscott Press. Keats (John). The Poems, one of 300, orig. vellum, 8vo, Kelmscott Press, 1894. £1,800 - 2,200
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Greenhill (Elizabeth).- Morison (Stanley) and Kenneth Day. The Typographic Book, 1450-1935, bound in dark green goatskin by Elizabeth Greenhill, 1963. £6,000 - 8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Fitzgerald (F. Scott). The Great Gatsby, first edition, first state dust-jacket, New York, 1925. £25,000 - 35,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. March 30, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Dionysius, <i>Halicarnassensis</i>. Antiquitates Romanae, Editio princeps, Treviso, Bernardinus Celerius, 24 or 25 February, 1480. £4,000 - 6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Canon Law. [Laurentius Puldericus. Breviarum decreti], manuscript in Latin, on paper, [?Germany], [c. 1450].<br>£5,000 - 7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Swimming. Percey (William) The Compleat Swimmer: or, the Art of Swimming, first and only edition, by J.C. for Henry Fletcher, 1658. £5,000 - 7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. March 30, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Binding with silverwork by Anthony Nelme. The Holy Bible, containing the Old Testament and the New: : newly translated out of the original tongues, Oxford, John Baskett, 1716. £10,000 - 15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> George IV's copy. Nash (John, architect). The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, one of 10 copies, 1826. £8,000 - 10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions Mar. 30:</b> Blake (William, 1757-1827). "With Dreams upon my bed thou scarest me & affrightest me with Visions", 1825. £700 - 1,000
  • <b>Auction Pierre Bergé & associés in association with Sotheby’s: Important Books and Manuscripts from the Library of Jean A. Bonna from the 15th to the 20th Century. Sale on April 26, 2017. Exhibition in London March 28-30</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Galileo, <i>Discorsi e Dimostrazioni matematiche.</i> Leyde, Elzevier, 1638. Original edition: only known copy of the first state. €700,000 – 900,000
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Fables illustrated by Benjamin Rabier. Paris, Tallandier, without date [ca. 1910]. Superb binding doubled in vellum decorated with painted and mosaic decors by André Mare illustrating four fables. €10,000 – 15,000
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Gustave Flaubert, draft for the preface of the <i>Memoir for the defense of Madame Bovary</i>, 15-30 January 1857. Exceptiona signed autograph manuscript. €40,000 – 60,000
    <b>Auction Pierre Bergé & associés in association with Sotheby’s: Important Books and Manuscripts from the Library of Jean A. Bonna from the 15th to the 20th Century. Sale on April 26, 2017. Exhibition in London March 28-30</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Boccace, <i>The Book of Praise and the Virtue of the Noble and Cleric Ladies.</i> Verard, 1493. First edition of the French version attributed to Laurent de Premierfait. €40,000 – 60,000
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés, Apr. 26:</b> Exceptional set of 15 original bindings by Jean de Gonet, on rare editions illustrated by Picasso, Matisse, Miro or original editions of Bataille or Radiguet.

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>Now in press: 19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> <i>The First American Magna Carta. English Liberties.</i> Boston, 1721.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Babbage presentation to Peel, the man who killed the Difference Engine 1832
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> The Stamp Act. 1765
    <b>Now in press: 19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Central Park Photographs by Prevost 1862
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Salem Witch Trials. Wonders of the Invisible World 1693
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> Mammoth print of Millie-Christine, "The Carolina Twins" c. 1868
  • <b>Seth Kaller:</b> “America the Beautiful”
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> George Washington, Tongue-in-Cheek, Writes James McHenry About His Wife or Mistress—But Funding the Continental Army is the Real Topic
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Young’s Map of the United States
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> President Lincoln & His Most Profitable Client, the Illinois Central Railroad
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Lincoln Thanks Former Pro-Slavery and Newly Republican Congressman for a Fiery Anti-Slavery Speech at a Philadelphia Campaign Rally
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> “A Visit From St. Nicholas” - great association copy inscribed by Clement C. Moore
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Einstein Agrees to Allow “a Short Book on the Hydrogen Bomb” to Use His Statement Made on Eleanor Roosevelt’s TV Show
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> The Building Blocks of Albert Einstein’s Creative Mind
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> A Unique Manuscript Map of Block Island Sound Including Fisher’s and Gardiner’s Islands, the Hamptons, and Montauk Point
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> J.R.R. Tolkien Writes his Proofreader with a Lengthy Discussion of the Lord of the Rings, Including Criticism of Radio Broadcasts of his Work
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Six Benjamin Franklin Signed Receipts – Including his Earliest Obtainable Autograph — Acknowledging a Donation to the Famous Library Company He Founded, and Five Payments for His Pennsylvania Gazette
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Sherman Dishes on Lincoln & Thomas, Meade, Sheridan, Halleck & Grant
  • <b>Bonhams, March 9. Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Kennedy Years</b>
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT. Autograph Manuscript Initialed ("E.B.B."), being the working notebook for the poems contained in <i>The Seraphim and Other Poems</i>. $400,000 to 600,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> WILDE, OSCAR. Two leaves, pp 31-34, from the first appearance of <i>The Picture of Dorian Gray in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine for July, 1890</i>, with Wilde's autograph revisions. $40,000 to 60,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Comedies, Histories and Tragedies; Published according to the true Originall Copies. Second Impression. [THE SECOND FOLIO.]</i> $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, March 9. Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Kennedy Years</b>
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> KENNEDY, JOHN FITZGERALD. Photograph Signed ("John F. Kennedy") and Inscribed, 8 x 10 inch gelatin silver print, of Senator Kennedy and Miss Barelli, at the swearing of the secretarial oath for Miss Barelli. $1,200 to 1,800
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> COOPER, JAMES FENIMORE. Autograph Manuscript, being Chapter XXVII of <i>Afloat and Ashore</i>. $15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> IRVING, WASHINGTON. Autograph Manuscript, being Chapter 20 from Volume IV of <i>The Life of George Washington</i>. $20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Bonhams, March 9. Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Kennedy Years</b>
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> VERNE, JULES. Autograph Manuscript Signed ("Jules Verne"), being the complete short story "<i>Une fantaisie de docteur Ox</i>". $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> ALCHEMY. <i>[The Crowning of Nature, or Coronatio Naturae.]</i> Original alchemical manuscript on paper, ruled in red, with watermark of the arms of Schieland. $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> DE JODE, CORNELUS. 1568 - 1600. <i>Quivirae Regnu, Cum Alija Versus Borea</i>. [Antwerp: Arnoldum Coninx, 1593]. $7,000 to 10,000
    <b>Bonhams, March 9. Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Kennedy Years</b>
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> HOOKER, JOSEPH DALTON. <i>The Rhododendrons of Sikkim-Himalaya; Being an Account, Botanical and Geographical, of the Rhododendrons Recently Discovered in the Mountains of Eastern Himalaya</i>… $7,000 to 10,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> CATLIN, GEORGE. <i>North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting scenes and amusements of the Rocky Mountains and prairies of America. From drawings and notes of the author, made during eight years' travel.</i> $20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Bonhams Mar. 9:</b> LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. HESLER, ALEXANDER. Platinum print, 8 3/4 x 6 3/4 in, of a beardless Lincoln, 1860.<br>$2,000 to 3,000

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