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)