It would seem that George Cudmore wasn’t all that crazy about his wife. He was convicted of her murder via poisoning and sentenced to death. Mr. Cudmore was hanged for his crime on March 25, 1830 at the Lent Assizes. Part of his sentence was to have his body dissected. However, Poet John Milton had other ideas and those ideas included the use of George Cudmore’s skin adorning his 1852 Poetic Works. As the English would say, “It’s all very grizzly”.
When Devon murderer George Cudmore was sentenced to hang at the Lent Assizes in 1830, he knew that part of his sentence was that his dead body would be taken to an Exeter hospital to be dissected.
What he probably was not aware of was that a chunk of his skin would eventually be flayed, tanned and used to cover an 1852 copy of The Poetical Works of John Milton.
The book is now housed at the Westcountry Studies Library in Exeter. It will go on show to the public for the first time on 26 February as part of Devon’s annual Local History Day.
An inscription in the front of the book states whose skin it is and his crime. Cudmore, a ratcatcher from Roborough, was convicted of killing his wife Grace by poisoning. He was hanged at the Devon County Gaol – on the site of the current Exeter Prison – on 25 March 1830.
“We don’t really know why the skin was retained or, indeed, where,” said Tony Rouse, senior assistant librarian. “It must have been kept somewhere until 1853 when it was used to cover the book.” Inscription in front of book bound in skin The book is inscribed with information on whose skin it is made from
While binding books in human skin is not common, it is not unusual, says Mr Rouse. The practice is known as anthropodermic bibliopegy and seems to have been most popular during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the first books covered in human skin were medical books – the skins were primarily from amputated body parts and unclaimed corpses. Occasionally, as in the case of Cudmore, the skin of executed prisoners was used. “It sounds grim but if I gave you the book to hold and didn’t tell you what it was covered in you would never know, it just looks like normal leather,” said Mr Rouse.
Although no-one knows for sure who covered the book there are some theories it was Exeter bookseller W Clifford, as his bookseller’s ticket was discovered in the front of the book. The bookplate in the front of the volume shows it was once part of a Mr Ralph Sanders’ library, which was probably donated to the Exeter City Library, eventually ending up in the Westcountry Studies Library.
This year’s local history event has a crime and punishment theme and as well as the book, the Exeter witchcraft trials and executions and the sites of the gallows in the county are up for discussion. “I would really encourage people to come and have a look,” said Mr Rouse. “It’s not been on display before and it’s really not as gruesome as it sounds, although it is certainly one of the more unusual items we have here.”
I did a little research and apparently the practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy is not all that uncommon. As if I wasn’t disgusted enough, according to this excerpt from Wikipedia, allegedly the Nazis even had a go at it. There’s a shocker, I wonder who’s skin they used? Not to be outdone an Eastern European lampshade (ca. 1920) covered in human skin was sold not long ago in New Orleans. Strangely enough that doesn’t surprise me based on the history of the city.
It was commonly believed for a time that prominent Nazis, such as Ilsa Koch, had commissioned the creation of items from the skin of victims of the Holocaust, including books and lampshades. However, no lampshades or books bound in human skin have ever been found, and in the absence of evidence the claim is now held to be a propaganda fabrication. The Nazis are known to have taken and preserved individual pieces of skin, chiefly those sections displaying tattoos; several examples of such can be found within the collections of the National Museum of Health and Medicine and the United States National Archives, although neither institution places these items on display.
In March, 2006 a human skin lampshade was sold for $35 to a collector in post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans. This object was verified at a DNA lab and the frame of the shade was verified as of Eastern European origin dating to 1920-1940. The full story of this object was documented in “The Lampshade” by Mark Jacobson, published by Simon and Schuster in September, 2010.
The binding of books in human skin is also a common element within horror films and works of fiction.
Peter Greenaway’s 1996 film The Pillow Book contains a sequence in which the body of a writer is exhumed and his skin painstakingly tanned, written upon, and bound into a book.
In the Evil Dead series of films and comic books originally created by Sam Raimi, a fictional Sumerian book called the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis is bound in human skin and inked with human blood.
The video game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem centers around a book called the Tome of Eternal Darkness which is bound in human flesh.
In the Warhammer Fantasy universe the Nine Books of Nagash are bound in human flesh and penned in human blood.
I didn’t get too deeply into this due to the ghoul factor but it’s one of those things you cover your eyes and peek thru your fingers at. I started to get the impression that human skin was just the tip of the iceberg so I decided to stop there.
Although there have been plenty of macabre stories here at GT some subjects just seem wrong. Tell me readers, would you own something covered in human skin? Frankly I don’t know that I’d even want to touch something of that nature.