Category Archives: Poison

Books Curiosities Death Murder Playwrights Poison

‘Thou’rt poisoned with that book’

I wanted to share this fascinating object which I stumbled upon on Friday. It is a bible dating to 1600 which contains a secret arsenal of poison. Given its nature, one might assume it was used by travelling assassins, or kept hidden in the library of a large house to dispatch unwanted guests. It was for auction at the Hermann Historica auction house in Germany, and is described, in translation, as follows:

Original book cover in 1600 with finely embossed parchment-related covers. Close book intact, the pages glued to a solid block, and cut out rectangular. Inside, finely crafted device with eleven different sized drawers and an open compartment. The individual drawers with colored paper glued on, the front frame and knobs flame strips of silver and ebonised wood. Handwritten paper labels with the Latin names for various poisonous plants (like Rhicinus, datura, belladonna, valerian, etc.). The greenish glass bottle labeled “est. Statutum hominibus semel mori” (It is given to man to die). In the book cover [is] glued old engraving depicting a standing skeleton, dated “1682″. Dimensions of the book 36 x 23 x 12 cm.

John Webster, in his play The Duchess of Malfi, has the Cardinal kill Julia with a poisoned bible, and it’s fascinating to speculate that rather than coming from his imagination, Webster had instead either seen or heard of an object similar to the one above.

I originally found the image here and the auction house details are here

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