• <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Feb 15:</b> Icons & Images: Photographs & Photobooks
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 1:</b> Vintage Posters Featuring Highlights from the Gail Chisholm Collection
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 8:</b> Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 13:</b> 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 22:</b> Autographs
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 29:</b> Printed & Manuscript African Americana
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Apr 12:</b> Printed & Manuscript Americana
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Apr 26:</b> Fine Illustrated Books & Graphics
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 3:</b> Graphic Design
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 15:</b> 19th & 20th Century Literature
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jun 7:</b><br>Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Jun 21:</b> Revolutionary & Presidential Americana from the Collection of William Wheeler III
  • <b>Sotheby’s, New York: Fine Printed and Manuscript Americana, Including Cartography. January 17, 2018</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Hayden, Ferdinand V. <i>The Yellowstone National Park, and the Mountain Ranges of Portions of Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Utah</i>. Boston, 1876. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Colton, G. Woolworth. <i>Colton’s New Map of the State of Texas, The Indian Territory and Adjoining Portions of New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arkansas</i>. New York, 1882. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> [Jefferson, Thomas]. <i>The Committee appointed to prepare a Plan for the temporary Government of the Western Territory, have agreed to the following Resolutions.</i> … [Annapolis, 1 March 1784]. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, New York: Fine Printed and Manuscript Americana, Including Cartography. January 17, 2018</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Mitchell, Samuel Augustus. <i>A New Map of Texas Oregon and California with the Regions Adjoining. Compiled from the Most Recent Authorities</i>. Philadelphia, 1846. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Bodmer, Karl [illustrator] — Prince Maximilian Zu Wied-Neuwied. <i>Reise In Das Innere Nord-America In Den Jahren 1832 Bis 1834</i>. 1839-1841. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Bry, Theodor De, Thomas Hariot, and John White. <i>[Hariot's Virginia]. Wunderbarliche, Doch Warhafftige Erklärung, Von der Gelegenheit und Sitten der Wilden in Virginia</i>... Frankfurt, 1590. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, New York: Fine Printed and Manuscript Americana, Including Cartography. January 17, 2018</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Bry, Theodor De, Thomas Hariot, and John White. <i>[Hariot's Virginia]. Wunderbarliche, Doch Warhafftige Erklärung, Von der Gelegenheit und Sitten der Wilden in Virginia</i>... Frankfurt, 1590. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Catlin, George. Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America. London, 1844. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Franklin, Benjamin ["Richard Saunders"]. <i>Poor Richard Improved: Being an Almanack and Ephemeris ... For ... 1756</i>. Philadelphia: B. Franklin And D. Hall, 1755. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Sotheby’s, New York: Fine Printed and Manuscript Americana, Including Cartography. January 17, 2018</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense; Addressed to the Inhabitants Of America... A New Edition, with Several Additions in the Body of the Work</i> ... Philadelphia, [1776]. $60,000 to $80,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> The Declaration of Independence. In Congress, July 4, 1776 … Salem, Massachusetts-Bay: Printed By E. Russell, By Order Of Authority, [Ca. 18–20 July 1776]. $1,000,000 to $1,500,000
    <b>Sotheby’s NY, Jan. 17:</b> Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. The Federalist. A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution … New York, 1788. $200,000 to $300,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. January 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 39: Presidential Pardon Signed by John F. Kennedy. November 1962. $7,000 to $9,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 537: Marc Chagall. <i>Illustrations for the Bible</i>. Features 28 lithograph plates. First American edition, 1956. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 252: Jack Kerouac. <i>On the Road</i>. 1957. First edition. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. January 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 143: Arthur Rimbaud. <i>A Season in Hell</i>. With photogravures by Robert Mapplethorpe. The Limited Editions Club, 1986. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 72: Group of 11 Harry Truman Signed Letters. Typed & signed by the former President. 1962-1970. $1,500 to $2,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 157: Arthur Conan Doyle. The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by The Limited Editions Club. 8 vols. 1950-52. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. January 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 173: Jacob Lawrence. <i>The First Book of Moses, Called Genesis</i>. Illustrated with silkscreens by Lawrence. 1989. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 239: William Faulkner. <i>Sartoris</i>. First edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & Company, 1929. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 286: Walt Whitman. New Year’s Eve Postcard Signed, “Walt Whitman,” to the poet Gabriel Sarrazin. January, 1891. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. January 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 351: Pair of European Fine Bindings. Including Gesanbuch (1831) & Naboznych Vylevov (1911). $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 423: August Luben. <i> Naturhistorischer Atlas der Saugethiere </i>. Includes complete set of 30 loose plates. Leipzig: 1858. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions Jan. 27:</b><br>Lot 386: <i>Famous Monsters of Filmland No 1</i>. Art by Will Elder, text by Forrest Ackerman. Warren’s first monster magazine. Feb, 1958. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. January 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> <i>Verve: Revue Artistique et Littéraire/An Artistic and Literary Quarterly,</i> nos.1-38 in 26 vol [a complete set], numerous colour lithographs by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse & others. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Wesley (John, Church of England clergyman and a founder of Methodism, 1703-91). Autograph Letter signed to Rev. John Bredin, 1782. £8,000 to £12,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Austen (Jane). Brock (Charles Edward). A group of seventeen ink and watercolour drawings for Dent's edition of Jane Austen's <i>Sense and Sensibility,</i> 1908. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. January 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Tibullus (Albius) and Gaius Valerius Catullus. <i>Elegiae, sive Carmina,</i> Venice, Andreas de Paltasichis, 1487. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Doves Press. English Bible (The), 5 vol., one of 500 copies, signed and inscribed by Laurence Hodson, Doves Press, 1903. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Africa. Smith (Andrew). <i>Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa,</i> 5 vol., first edition, original cloth, [1838-50]. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. January 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Longitude. <i>An Act for providing a Publick Reward for such Person or Persons as shall Discover the Longitude at Sea,</i> first edition of this highly important act, John Baskett, 1714. £3,000 to £5,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Shirley (James). <i>Six new playes, viz. The Brothers. Sisters. Doubtfull Heir. Imposture. Cardinall. Court secret,</i> first edition, 1653. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Heaney (Seamus). <i>Ugolino,</i> number 77 of 125 copies, Dublin, Dolmen Press, 1979. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books and Works on Paper. January 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Lasinio (Carlo, 1759-1838). <i>[Ritratti Originali de Pittori Esistenti Nella Reale Galleria de Firenze],</i> 99 engravings, circa 1791-96. £1,800 to £2,200
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Japan. Kusakabe Kimbei. Photograph Album, 50 hand-coloured albumen prints, oblong folio, [c.1890-1900]. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 25:</b> Polar. Expedition in search of Sir John Franklin. Arctic Expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, printed flyer, 1852. £1,000 to £1,500
  • <b>Case Antiques: Historic Winter Fine Art and Antiques Auction<br>January 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> <i>The Massachusetts Magazine: or Monthly Museum of Knowledge and Rational Entertainment,</i> 1789. Signed by George Washington. $28,000 to $32,000
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> George Washington Signed Letter to John Marshall. $12,000 to $14,000
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> Picasso Signed “Vallauris” 1952 Exhibition Poster. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Case Antiques: Historic Winter Fine Art and Antiques Auction<br>January 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> Military appointment commission document signed by both President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, dated January 27, 1803. $2,400 to $2,800
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> Doris Ulmann and Julia Peterkin. <i>Roll, Jordan, Roll.</i> New York, 1933, deluxe edition, preceding first edition of the same year. No. 74 of 350. $5,000 to $6,000
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> John Marshall. <i>The Life of George Washington,</i> Philadelphia, 1832. Signed by author. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Case Antiques: Historic Winter Fine Art and Antiques Auction<br>January 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> Samuel L. Margolies (American, 1897-1974). Aquatint and etching, "Builders of Babylon," 1937. $4,000 to $4,500
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> Two Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) signed documents as President of Washington College. $3,000 to $3,500
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> William C. Harris. <i>The Fishes of North America That Are Captured on Hook and Line</i>, Vol I., New York, 1898. 40 chromolithograph plates. $2,000 to $2,500
    <b>Case Antiques: Historic Winter Fine Art and Antiques Auction<br>January 27, 2018</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> $100 "Date Back" bank note 1902 from the Clarksville National Bank, Clarksville, Tennessee, depicting the portrait of John Jay Knox, Jr. $1,400 to $1,800
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> View of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville and Monticello, Taken from Lewis Mountain, drawn and lithographed by Edward Sachse. $800 to $1,000
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 27:</b> Large Civil War photograph mounted on card stock depicting Rossville Gap in Missionary Ridge. $400 to $450

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