First proven case of anthropodermic bibliopegy
Des destinees de l'ame (Destinies of the Soul)
June 2014 first
Estados Unidos (Cambridge)

The first book confirmed scientifically to have been bound in human skin is a copy of French novelist Arsène Houssaye's Des destinees de l'ame (Destinies of the Soul), which was tested in 2014 using a number of techniques, including peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF). The book, housed in the Houghton Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, was assessed by a team led by analytical chemist Dr Daniel P Kirby, and the library's Senior Rare Book Conservator Alan Puglia confirmed that the conservators and scientists were "99% certain the binding is of human origin".

The term "anthropodermic bibliopegy" is a nonce term taken from the Greek for "human skin book fastening" and is thought to date to an article written in 1947 by the print historian Lawrence S Thompson. The equally nonce term used for binding a book in the author's own skin is "auto-anthropodermic bibliopegy".

Des destinees de l'ame was loaned to Harvard in 1934 by its previous owner, John B Stetson Jr (son of the pioneering hat-maker), who was an avid bibliophile and whose widow made a permanent gift of the edition in 1954. The author, Houssaye (1815–1896), had written the book as a meditation on the soul while mourning the death of his wife, and had originally gifted a copy in its regular binding to a friend, Dr Ludovic Bouland. It was commonplace in the 19th century for wealthy bibliophiles to have books, old and new, bound (or re-bound) in leather, and Bouland had this edition bound in the skin removed from "the back of the unclaimed body of a woman patient in a French mental hospital" who had died suddenly from a stroke. He had been saving the skin for "the right occasion", and chose this time to put it to use. Inside the cover of the human-bound tome, he inscribed: "A book on the human soul merits that it be given human clothing."

The tanning process can destroy testable DNA in leather, and years of handling by human hands can contaminate samples taken to determine a book's age. The relatively recent development of peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF) in the early 1990s has allowed researchers to accurately determine the origins of a number of books purportedly bound in human skin. PMF requires only a miniscule sample of the binding to be removed; the excised piece is dissolved in an enzyme and then analysed by a mass spectrometer to identify the molecular weights of its peptides (strings of amino-acid building blocks). When displayed as a line graph, this series of weights can be compared to known examples from a database to determine the animal from which the leather was taken.

The grotesque practice of binding books in tanned human skin was a predominately 19th-century obsession, and typically the indulgence of bibliophilic doctors with ready access to unclaimed corpses. According to the US-based Anthropodermic Book Project a team of like-minded bibliophiles and scientists founded in 2014 to investigate the provenance of such items of the c. 50 books purporting to be bound in human skin, 31 have been tested and 17 confirmed to be of Hominidae origin; the others were found to be bound in the skin of, variously, horses, pigs and sheep. While PMF can only determine a hominid origin, there is no evidence to suggest that any great ape other than human has been sought for leather book binding, hence the 99% certainty announced by the researchers.