There are many real and fictitious occurrences of concealing objects in a book. Items can be concealed in books in a number of ways. Small items such as a photograph or a note can be hidden in between the pages of the book. Thicker items can be hidden by removing the interior portion of some or all of the pages, creating a book safe or hollowed-out book. Book safes are easy for their owners to recognise, but they do not stand out to a thief or other intruder.
Another type of concealment is the hiding of messages in the text or on a book’s pages by printing in code — a form of steganography. For example, letters could be underlined on sequential pages, with the letters spelling out a message or code. There are a number of actual and fictional examples of items or messages having been concealed in a book.
Illicit chemicals may be smuggled by soaking individual pages with them.
Books are used as a concealment device in part because they are readily available and inconspicuous in many settings.
Methods of concealment
Hollow book safes
Prices can vary based on the cost of materials, additional features, and resources used to create the functionality and aesthetics of the hollow book. The main functional purpose aims for the containment of valuables, memorable items, or contraband within the cloak of an ordinary book. Thus maintaining privacy and security from unwanted intrusions and/or theft.
The scale of gadgetry used to create the seal of a hollow book’s closing properties have ranged from simple to complex. Simple elastic bands, interlocking rope, and other common book closing techniques are used. Other times, hidden magnets do the task as well as the unusual use of complex locking mechanisms that require a lock and key combinations have also been used to keep a book closed.
Material choices used in the creation of the hollow book’s body are usually actual books. However, other plastic, metal, cardboard, or paper materials have also been used to either simulate a real book, or to be used as extra features.
Many book safes are handmade. Structures made from real books are sealed and pressed before hollowing the inside pages with a sharp cutting utility. Sealing the back and allowing the front cover to act as a door that can be opened and shut. While other hollow books are made from cardboard cigar boxes, simulating a book on the outside.
Steganography and hidden messages
Messages can be hidden within a book using steganographic techniques. Invisible ink may be used to write words and sentences in the book, or by underlining certain words or letters a message can be crafted.
The author of a book may include coded messages by carefully choosing the wording, such as in a simple acrostic where the first letter of each word spells another word. There have been many claims of a Bible code, alleging that God secretly placed hidden messages in the Torah, and that these can be discovered by suitable manipulations of the text. The 1997 book The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin is one of the most famous examples. On the other hand, it has been shown one may discover “hidden messages” in any book using this method.
Choice of book
In fictional uses of book safes, the title or subject of the book can be symbolic or related to the nature of the object, e.g., hidden money in a copy of The Wealth of Nations. There are a number of cases from films and television series where an item is hidden in the Bible.
Actual or purported examples
- Recording artist Ugly Husbands released a full-length cassette in a limited edition of 50, each in a different book-safe, on Roll Over Rover Records.
- Hollowed-out books have been used to smuggle items into prisons, such as tools to aid a prison escape or contraband such as drugs or weapons.
- Small bombs can be hidden inside books, with a trigger that operates when book is opened. In 1980, United Airlines president Percy Wood was injured by the explosion of a pipe bomb hidden inside a book that he received in the mail.
- A man in Redding, California was arrested after taking photographs of a young girl with a camera hidden inside a book.
- In 2005, antiques thieves attempted to use a hollowed-out book to take a precious lead weight out of Israel.
- Guards at the Washington County Jail in Fayetteville, Arkansas seized a book that had been marked with what appeared to be stains from a leaking yellow felt pen, but tested positive for methamphetamine
- In the series Prison Break, the main character, Michael Scofield, hides a screw in a Bible, which he uses to break out of prison.
- In the 2005 episode of the television series LostWhat Kate Did, one of the characters finds some film in a Bible.
- An episode of The Simpsonsfeatures a Bible hollowed out to hold alcohol.
- In the Houseepisode “Finding Judas”, the title character conceals a bottle of Vicodin in a textbook on lupus.
- In the King of the Hillepisode “Full Metal Dust Jacket,” Dale Gribble attempts to buy a book for the purpose of hiding a firearm in it.
- In the series Pretty Little Liars, character, Spencer Hastings, finds four small tapes concealed in a book.
- Red Grant, one of the villains in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Lovehas a gun hidden in a copy of War and Peace.
- A nail trimmer is concealed in a Bible by inmate Frank Morris in the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz.
- In the BBC mini-series Smiley’s People, George Smiley hides a negative photograph of Kirov and Leipzig in an antique edition on loan from a friend upon Oliver Lacon’s intrusion into his study. When Lacon’s interest in the book becomes untenable, Smiley remarks that the edition is worth half the national budget and could he leave it alone—thus preserving the cover for the interleaved exposure.
- In the 1993 Disney film The Three Musketeers, Aramis pulls a pistol from a hollowed out bible to save d’Artagnan from the executioners’ axe.
- In the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, one of the characters hides a rock hammer inside a Bible. The first page to be cut into bears the title “Exodus”. The line “Salvation lies within” is also repeated more than once.
- In the 1997 Disney film Jungle 2 Jungle, an item is hidden in the Bible.
- In the 1997 film The Game, Michael Douglas takes a gun from a hollowed-out copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
- Lara Croft finds a hidden note from her father bound behind a book jacket in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
- In the 1999 film The Matrix, the central character Neo hides several computer disks in a copy of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation.
- In the 1999 short film Me and the Big Guy, Citizen 43275-B hides a diary, pen, and pair of glasses in a Re-Education Manual.
- In the 2004 film Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Kumar hides his stash of marijuana in his medical book.
- In the 2004 film National Treasure, Ben’s father keeps money in a copy of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.
- In the 2006 film V for Vendetta, Bishop Anthony James Lilliman hides a gun in a copy of the Bible.
- In the 2007 film The Invisible, the protagonist hides money he has earned selling essays in a hollowed-out copy of Catch-22.
- Explorers on the Moon, one of The Adventures of Tintin, features a book hollowed out to hold alcohol.
- In Robert Ludlum’s posthumously published book The Janson Directive, Paul Janson’s old mentor Angus Fielding, don of Trinity College, pulls a .22 Webley Pistol out of the 1759 edition of Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language A-G(the A standing for ammunition and the G for guns).
- In the novel Interstellar Pig, Barney hides the Piggy in a hollowed-out high-school yearbook.
- In the novel John Dies at the End, David keeps a gun in a hollowed-out copy of the Qur’an.
- In the 2001 adventure game Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Final Cut, the player must cut open a book with a knife to discover a key. .
- In the horror game Resident Evil, players can obtain a book with a medal hidden inside.
- In the video game Hitman: Blood Money, the player can conceal a bomb in a hollow bible.
- In the Nintendo DS game Another Code, a key is found inside a hollow book.
- In the PC and NES game Shadowgate, a key is found in a hollowed out book. The player must learn to open the book without removing it, because by moving the book, a switch is set off that drops the player into a pit.
- Often in popular fiction, a switch to open a secret passage is disguised as a book on a bookshelf.
- ^Bible code and criticisms page
- ^“Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 9 May 2019. Retrieved 14 November 2019.
- ^Woman sentenced for mailing meth in hollowed-out bookcom
- ^* Bomb #4 Victim: Percy Wood Lake Forest, Ill. (6/10/80) www.unabombertrial.com
- ^Man accused of taking photos as girl shopped Archived 3 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine By Constance Dillon Redding.com/Record Searchlight Newspaper
- ^A Just Weight Israel Today
- ^Paperback Novel Laced With Methamphetamine at the Washington County Jail, Fayetteville, Arkansas Archived 12 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine DEA Microgram
Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder TBIL.co STATX Fund.