The Tripitaka Koreana, Haeinsa Temple, South Korea, 1231. This is one of the oldest and most remarkable collections in the world. The items on the shelves are not books, but wooden printing blocks. There are over 80 000 of them. This building is not open to the public, although you can visit the temple and stare through the windows. It is one of the most remarkable places we were given access to. The blocks have been preserved by the clever design and layout of the buildings that house them, which ensure shelter and adequate ventilation. Set high in the mountains, cool winds have helped to keep the blocks in perfect condition for over 800 years.
Leather-bound with gold lettering and 1,600 pages long, this Bible was given to Elvis Presley from his uncle and aunt, for his first Christmas at his Graceland estate in Memphis, in 1957. This Bible was used by Elvis Presley until his death on 16 August 1977. Bearing his annotations, the Holy Book went for £59,000 at auction in England, on 8 Sept 2012 (via).
Halloween (2): Bound in human skin
This beautiful binding is made of, you guessed it, human skin. For the longest time I thought this practice (anthropdermic bibliopegy) was a myth, but it is not. It frequently occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries, and even later. Human skin was removed from a corpse, tanned (or processed in another way) and then used to cover a book. Harvard’s Houghton Library has one from the 1880s (read more about it here), but the one in this image is much older. Dating from the early 17th century, this book seems to have been bound in the skin of the priest Father Henry Garnet, who was executed in 1606 for his role in the Gunpowder Plot - the attempt to ignite 36 barrels of gunpowder under the British Parliament. Ironically, the printed book Garnet’s skin was put around outlined the story and the evidence of the plot. In a twist wonderfully suitable for Halloween, the face of Garnet was thought to have appeared on the binding (faintly visible in the image), which is the only nonsense part of this bizarre and gross story. Happy Halloween!
More details. The story of binding a book in human skin is connected to criminals. During the 1830s a murderer was stripped off his skin (post-execution), which ended up as a binding for John Milton’s Poetical Works (read about it here). Another 19th-century criminal whose skin ended up as a book was John Horwood (read the gruesome details here). More about the practice in general in this National Geographic piece; more about the book above here, as well as in this Guardian news article.