Monday, August 28, 2006

First Folio Quest

Paul Collins (of Weekend Stubble blog-fame) has a piece in the September issue of Smithsonian about Anthony James West, who has tracked down and examined every known copy (all 230 to date) of Shakespeare's First Folio. Collins notes that just four books in the world have been copy to a copy-by-copy census (the others being Audubon's Birds of America double elephant folio, Copernicus' De revolutionibus and the Gutenberg Bible).

West's work, which is being published by Oxford University Press, will document payment records, provenance, and copy-specific details for each book. He's been working on the project since 1989, and has visited five continents in pursuit of the goal. Even so, he told Collins, new Folios appear every now and then: "As long as Folios are misfiled in libraries and hiding with long-lost relatives, the count of 230 copies will inch upward. At least a dozen known copies remain untraced. 'I have about 130 leads,' West says, adding that some are 'quite hot.'"

Certainly a piece worth reading (particularly if you liked Owen Gingerich's The Book Nobody Read, about his similar pursuit of the Copernicus).