Books come in assorted sizes, from hefty dictionaries to things no bigger than postage stamps. M. George Salomon, a nineteenth century Frenchman, owned a library of more than 700 miniature volumes, none exceeding two inches tall by one and one-third inches wide.
At the other extreme, the largest book in captivity is a world atlas now in the British Library. Presented by the merchants of Amsterdam to King Charles II of England in 1660, the book measures five feet ten inches high and three feet six inches wide. At least two people are required to open it and turn its pages.
Over the centuries, books have been bound in various materials--cloth, paper, wood, bone, ivory, asbestos, horse hair, cowhide, goat skin, pigskin. A number of books have been bound in human skin.
Prior to 1832 in England, doctors and medical students were allowed to dissect only the bodies of executed murderers. The populace loved to read accounts of the lives and deaths of these villains, and it was not unheard of for a copy to be bound in the miscreant's own hide.
Such a volume now resides in the Bristol Public Record Office. The book, dated 1821, describes the dissection of John Horwood. It also contains a transcript of Horwood's trial for the murder of Eliza Balsam. The book, bound in Horwood's skin, which resembles tanned pigskin, is beautifully hand-tooled around the edges and bears a picture of a gallows on the front cover.
An edition of Milton's works, published in 1852, is bound in the skin of George Cudmore, a murderer executed on March 25, 1830. "This skin," writes an observer, "is dressed white, and looks something like pig-skin in grain and texture."
A French publisher once brought out an edition of Rousseau's Social Contract bound in the skin of aristocrats guillotined during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution.
Finally, the mistress of Eugène Sue, a French novelist, stipulated in her will that an edition of her lover's works be bound in her skin. Her wish was followed. In 1951 a copy of Sue's Vignettes: les Mystères de Paris, bound in his mistress' skin, sold at Foyle's in London for the equivalent of twenty-nine dollars.
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