You find the darndest things in Langdell Hall…


In law school, one of my favorite pass times was to haunt the stacks of Langdell Hall (HLS’s law library) looking for odd books. In time, I graduated to the special collections room, and found excuses for looking at rare and ancient law volumes. (A habit I continued while clerking. My judge has a fabulous collection of medieval and early modern law books.) However, I never came across the law books bound in human skin. According to the Boston Globe:

The Harvard Law School Library bought its copy of a 1605 practice manual for Spanish lawyers decades ago, for $42.50 from an antiquarian books dealer in New Orleans. It sat on a shelf unnoticed until the early 1990s, when curator David Ferris was going through the library catalogue and saw a note, copied from inside the cover, saying it was bound in the skin of a man named Jonas Wright.

DNA tests were inconclusive — the genetic material having been destroyed by the tanning process — but the library had a box made to store the book and now keeps it on a special shelf.

“We felt we couldn’t set it just next to someone else’s law books,” Ferris said.

If I were wittier, I would find some sort of quip, perhaps connecting the book to the travails of law school or Harvard’s rapacious attitude toward alumni, but I can’t think of anything. I will leave it to your imagination.

(Hat tip to danithew at Times & Seasons)

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