Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Shakespeare First Folio to be Auctioned

Western Mail (Wales) reporter Aled Blake has an article out on the July 13 Sotheby's auction of an exceedingly rare copy of the Shakespeare First Folio. According to early estimates, the copy could fetch as much as £3.5 million (around $6.5 million).

Printed in 1623 in a run of approximately 750 copies, the Folio contains eighteen plays which had never been printed before - meaning without it, there's a decent chance that some of Shakespeare's most famous productions would not have survived (including Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Tempest, and As You Like It). Only around a third of those copies exist in any form today.

The copy that will be sold Thursday is a very rare complete edition, in nearly pristine condition. The Sotheby's catalogue notes "No other such textually complete copy of the First Folio in a mid-seventeenth-century binding is known to survive in other than institutional hands. ... This copy is further remarkable in that it shows considerable signs of careful reading in the seventeenth century by a contemporary or near contemporary reader, has been seemingly owned since that time by only two persons, Dr William Bates (1625-1699) and Dr Daniel Williams (c. 1643-1716), both Nonconformist divines, and has since 1729 been in the library founded by the second of these - a library which is today of primary importance for the history and study of Nonconformist history and theology. It has therefore the longest uninterrupted ownership of any copy in the world."

The Williams copy is being sold, according to Blake, by the trustees of Dr. Williams' library, "one of the oldest open to the public still conducted on its original benefaction." Library director David Wyckes says of the sale "We believe the sale will enable us to enhance the service we offer our readers and to better develop and conserve our unique collections."

Sotheby's has created a flashy display for the book, which is linked here. It contains a fair number of images, as well as an introduction [pdf] by Professor Stanley Wells, editor of the Oxford Shakespeare and Emeritus Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Birmingham University. You can also browse the full catalogue (the First Folio is Lot 95).

What a beautiful book, and enhanced so by the early annotations and terrific provenance. A rare find indeed. I wish I could find myself in London this week just to catch a glimpse of it!

[Update: Here's another article on the sale, from the Sacramento Bee, which highlights the Firrst Folio at the California State Library.]