Philobiblon: A 'bargain' First Folio

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A 'bargain' First Folio

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.


Blogger clanger said...

So, that'll be a few extra lottery tickets for Clanger this week then!

Also relevant.
West, Anthony James.
"The Shakespeare first folio: the history of the book"

Vol. I: An account of the first folio based on its sales and prices, 1623-2000.

Vol. II: A new world census of first folios.

Vols. III-IV are on the way!

The number of surviving copies makes F1 as common as muck in antiquarian terms, although I wouldn't mind owning one.

Survival rates on large folios with literary merit are quite high.

The quartos are more important, much cheaper, and much rarer, being sold largely to theatre-goers.

There are good facsimiles to be had of each of F1-F4 if you fancy one.

Initially Bodley wouldn't have plays in his new library-in case some scandal were to attach itself to the institution as a consequence of housing such works. That decision cost Oxford soooo much money in the long term.

3/30/2006 07:59:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

I didn't know that about Bodley - as you say, it must have been very expensive. (But it is a gorgeous library to work in - I've been there a few times.)

You'd better buy a few lottery tickets - you'd probably have to win it a couple of times over...

3/30/2006 09:35:00 pm  
Blogger clanger said...

Duke Humfrey's? Its gorgeous isn't it! Walls lined with folios.

Outdone by the old BM reading room though. That dome! One of the wonders of London. First time you walk in, its just mindblowing. A cathedral to the book.

Bodley thought many (esp. English) books weren't serious enough. See: "Letters of Sir Thomas Bodley to Thomas James, first Keeper of the Bodleian Library" Edited with an introduction by G. W. Wheeler. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926.

3/30/2006 11:26:00 pm  

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