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Psst… Do you want to see an 1852 edition of John Milton’s Poetical Works bound in human skin? The Daily Mail knows you do. So does the Westcountry Studies Library in Exeter, where the book will be on display for the first time. It doesn’t really look like anything special, but thankfully (or not, depending on your taste tolerance) the backstory has been preserved along with the book.
This isn’t just anyone’s skin; in a twist that sounds like it was specially conceived for the tabloids of the era (an era in which one could still be a rat catcher by trade, also a perfect detail) the skin belonged to the aforementioned ratter who was convicted of poisoning his lover. This being 1852, naturally they hung him in front of a crowd of over 1,000 and sent his body off to be dissected. Y’know, for science, and to give his skin to a random bookseller.
Senior assistant librarian Tony Rouse said: ‘It is certainly an unusual and grisly thing, but if it weren’t for the description, it would be difficult to discern its past.
‘There is no hair or stray nipple or anything like that. It is outwardly unremarkable but a closer inspection reveals it to be a surprising artefact.’
The book is going on display as part of a crime and punishment exhibition, which will also feature talks on executions and witch trials.