Some of nation's best libraries have books bound in human skin - Boston.com: "The best libraries then belonged to private collectors. Some were doctors who had access to skin from amputated parts and patients whose bodies were not claimed. They found human leather to be relatively cheap, durable and waterproof, Hartman said.
In other cases, wealthy bibliophiles may have acquired the skin from criminals who were executed, cadavers used in medical schools and people who died in the poor house, said Sam Streit, director of Brown's John Hay Library.
The library has three books bound in human skin -- the anatomy text and two 19th century editions of 'The Dance of Death,' a medieval morality tale.
One copy of 'The Dance of Death' dates to 1816 but was rebound in 1893 by Joseph Zaehnsdorf, a master binder in London. A note to his client reports that he did not have enough skin and had to split it. The front cover, bound in the outer layer of the epidermis, has a slightly bumpy texture, like soft sandpaper. The spine and back cover, made from the inner layer of skin, feels like suede."