Should you happen to have a spare £3.5m or so, an extraordinarily rare Shakespeare First Folio is being auctioned on July 13.
Printed in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the folio was assembled and edited by John Heminges and Henry Condell, fellow actors who performed with Shakespeare in the King’s Men, the company for which he wrote. The folio contains 36 plays, 18 of which – including Macbeth, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew and As You Like It – had never been printed before and, were it not for their appearance in the folio, would most probably have been lost forever. On its publication, the folio sold for around 20 shillings (equivalent to approximately £100 today).
Coincidentally, I’ve recently been reading about the edition in the small but astonishingly informative pamphlet that accompanied the Folger Shakespeare Library exhibition in 1991. (P.W. Blayney, The First Folio of Shakespeare, Folger Library, Washington, 1991.)
There are about 240 surviving copies (the “about” is because in the 19th century collectors and booksellers gathered together fragments – sometimes from different editions). Half of them are held by the Folger, and they have been studied in truly exhaustive detail, to the point where the number of typesettersrs, and the pages they prepared, have been convincingly identified.
The one being sold in the summer is one of only two in the original binding to be held in private hands. One of the “public” original versions has quite a tale. Under an agreement of 1611, it was donated to Sir Thomas Bodley’s library in Oxford, one of a batch of books sent to the University’s binder on 17 Feb 1624. It was sold by the library as a duplicate(!) in the 1660s, but luckily bought back in 1905, when the price was no doubt considerably lower than it would be today.
Should the budget in July not quite stretch to £3.5 million, you can view an online version.