• <b><center>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books, Autographs & Manuscripts<br>11th-12th of October 2022
    <b>Gonnelli Oct. 11th:</b> Alfieri Vittorio, <i>Vita [...] scritta da esso,</i> 1968. Starting Price: €900,00.
    <b>Gonnelli Oct. 11th:</b> Collection of 25 albumin photographs depicting Italian, French and Swiss places. Late 19th century.
    <b>Gonnelli Oct. 11th:</b> Brandolini D’Adda Brandolino, Duale. <i>Poesia [...] e incisioni di Sandro Martini,</i> 1976.
    <b>Gonnelli Oct. 11th:</b> Alighieri Dante, <i>La divina commedia di Dante</i> edizione illustrata da 30 fotografie tolte da disegni di Scaramuzza, 1879. Starting Price: €500,00.
    Gonnelli Oct. 12th: Cervantes Saavedra Miguel (de), <i>El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.</i> Nueva edicion corregida por la Real Academia Española, 1780. Starting price: €12.000,00.
    <b>Gonnelli Oct. 11th:</b> Collodi Carlo, <i>Le avventure di Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino,</i> 1883. Starting price: €6.000,00.
    <b>Gonnelli Oct. 11th:</b> Wilde Oscar, <i>The Picture of Dorian Gray [...]</i> with original images & notes on the text by Jim Dine, 1968. Starting price: €1.500,00
    <b>Gonnelli Oct. 11th:</b> The smallest tarot cards in the world. 21st century.
  • <center><b>Dominic Winter<br>October 12th<br>Printed Books, Stamps & Documents, Maps, Travel & Exploration
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Hottot (Robert). <i>French explorer and collector.</i> An original illustrated manuscript diary by Hottot of his expedition along the Congo River to Lake Chad, 1908-1909, £700-1,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Japan. Ino Tadataka (after), Kokugun Zenzu (Complete Atlas of Japan), 2 volumes, circa 1838, £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Khatib al-Tibrizi (Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah). <i>Mishcat-ul-masabih</i> or a collection of the most authentic traditions, regarding the actions and sayings of Muhammed; 2 volumes, Calcutta, 1809-1810, £1,500-2,000
    <center><b>Dominic Winter<br>October 12th<br>Printed Books, Stamps & Documents, Maps, Travel & Exploration
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Roberts (David). <i>The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia,</i> 1st quarto edition, 6 volumes in 3, London: Day & Son, 1855-56, £2,000-3,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Tocqueville (Alexis de). <i>De la Démocratie en Amérique,</i> volumes 1 & 2 (of 4), 1st edition, Paris: Charles Gosselin, 1835, £2,000-3,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Torquemada (Juan de). <i>Primera[-tercera] parte de los veinte i un libros rituales i monarchia Indiana,</i> 3 volumes, 2nd edition, Madrid: Nicolas Rodriguez Franco, 1723, £2,000-3,000
    <center><b>Dominic Winter<br>October 12th<br>Printed Books, Stamps & Documents, Maps, Travel & Exploration
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Donovan (Edward). <i>The Natural History of British Insects,</i> 16 volumes bound in 8, London: F and C Rivington, 1793-1813, £1,500-2,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Fuchs (Leonhart). <i>New Kreüterbuch,</i> 1st edition in German, Basel: Michael Isingrin, 1543, £7,000-10,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Spain & Portugal. Ptolemy (Claudius), <i>Secunda Europe Tabula,</i> Rome [1478 - 1509], £1,000-2,000
    <center><b>Dominic Winter<br>October 12th<br>Printed Books, Stamps & Documents, Maps, Travel & Exploration
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> World. Gill (Macdonald), <i>La Carta del Atlantico,</i> George Philip & Son Ltd in collaboration with the Time and Tide Publishing Company Ltd, circa 1943, £1,500-2,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Vinegar Bible [English]. <i>The Holy Bible, Containing the Old Testament and the New,</i> Oxford: John Baskett, 1717/1716, £700-1,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, Oct. 12:</b> Mill (John Stuart). <i>The Subjection of Women,</i> 1st edition, presentation copy, London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1869, £700-1,000

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

  • <center><b>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>October 13, 2022</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 109. Miguel de Cervantes. <i>The History of Don-Quichote. The first parte.</i> London: William Stansby for Edward Blount, 1620. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 43. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. <i>Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.</i> Washington: The White House, Christmastide, 1942. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 113. Charles Darwin. A collection of 26 titles including <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> $10,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 210. Philip Guston. Important correspondence between Philip Guston and Ralph and Martha Hyams. New York, 1967-76. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 26. John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. Signed guest book and original photos from the May 19, 1962 reception. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <center><b>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>October 13, 2022</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 194. J.R.R. Tolkien. <i>The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.</i> London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954-1954-1955. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 164. Max Beerbohm. Autograph Manuscript for The Happy Hypocrite, circa 1896. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 158. Mark Twain. <i>The Writings.</i> Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1899-1907. The Autograph Edition. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 150. Lady Dilke. <i>French Painters of the XVIIIth Century.</i> London: George Bell, 1899. First edition. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 200. Ludwig Bemelmans. Original sketch of Madeline, ink and gouache. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> JOYCE, James. <i>Ulysses.</i> London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1937. PRESENTATION COPY OF THE FIRST ENGLISH EDITION PRINTED IN ENGLAND. $50,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [SHACKLETON, Ernest]. –– BROWNING, Robert. <i>Poetical Works of…</i> London: Smith and Elder, 1906. PRESENTED TO SHACKLETON AND THE OFFICERS OF THE NIMROD BY A MEMBER OF THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> AUDUBON, John James. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York: George R. Lockwood, [1870]. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> ARISTOTLE. Opera, in Greek, parts one and two only: Organon and Natural Philosophy I. Edited by Aldus and others. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1 November 1495–February 1498. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> COOK, James, Capt. [Collected Voyages]. First and Second Voyages: London: W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1773, 1777; Third Voyage: London: H. Hughes for G. Nicol and T. Cadell, 1785. $14,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne (“Mark Twain”). <i>The Writings of…</i> Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1899–1900. $12,000 to $16,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>The Poems of…</i> Edited by Frederick S. Ellis. Hammersmith: William Morris for the Kelmscott Press, 1893. $12,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> LONDON, Jack. <i>The Call of the Wild.</i> New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905. PRESENTATION COPY INSCRIBED BY LONDON. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> CROWLEY, Aleister (1875–1947). <i>The Winged Beetle.</i> London: privately printed, 1910. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> WILDE, Oscar (“C.3.3.”). <i>The Ballad of Reading Gaol.</i> London: Leonard Smithers, January 1898. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> DRYDEN, John. <i>Fables Ancient and Modern; translated into verse from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, & Chaucer: with original poems.</i> London: John Tonson, 1700. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [MAP]. LINSCHOTEN, Jan Huygen van. <i>Delineatio Orarum Maritimarum…</i> London: John Wolfe, 1598. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Early Printed Books<br>October 13, 2022
    <b>Swann October 13:</b> Miguel de Cervantes, <i>The History of Don-Quichote (Quixote), The First & Second Part,</i> London, 1620. $30,000 to $40,000
    <b>Swann October 13:</b> Jacques Lagniet, <i>Recueil des Plus Illustres Proverbes, Divisés en Trois Livre,</i> first edition, Paris, 1657-63. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann October 13:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies,</i> fourth folio, London, 1685. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Swann October 13:</b> Ramon Llull, <i>Liber de Ascensu et Decensu Intellectus,</i> first edition, Valencia, 1512. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Swann October 13:</b> Geoffrey Chaucer, <i>The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed,</i> London, 1542. $30,000 to $50,000.

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