ARCHIVE: English Literature's Rarest Book to Be Sold; Shakespeare's First Folio Is Expected to Cause a Bidding Frenzy When It Goes to Auction,

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Edmonds

The most important book in English literature, the First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, could fetch more than pounds 3 million when it is auctioned.

The rare volume will be offered for sale in Sotheby's English Literature and History sale in London in July.

Published in 1613, seven years after Shakespeare's death, this seminal volume contains a total of 36 plays, 18 of which had never previously been printed. Had it not been for their appearance in the First Folio they might have been lost forever.

Some 750 copies were printed - a large amount for the time - and about one-third of these survive, but they are mostly incomplete.

The copy Sotheby's will be selling is remarkably untouched in a mid 17th century binding and since it comes from the Trustees of Doctor Williams's Library, it is filled with extensive marks and annotations, which provide a valuable insight into its early readership with its first owners.

The First Folio is estimated to fetch pounds 2.5 - pounds 3.5 million and Peter Selley, Sotheby's English Literature Specialist said: "William Shakespeare has had an impact on the artistic imagination, on language, literature and all the performing arts, more profound and more widespread than any writer who has ever lived.

"The First Folio preserves 18 of his plays, including some of the major works, which otherwise would have been lost forever.

"Relatively complete copies of the Folio in contemporary or near contemporary bindings very rarely come onto the market."

There is only one other copy recorded as remaining in private hands, which Sir Paul Getty bought four years ago from Oriel College, Oxford.

This remarkable book is being sold by the trustees of Dr Williams's library, established initially in the early 18th century under the will of Dr Daniel Williams, the leading dissenting minister of his generation.

The Library, maintained by Dr Williams's Trust, is one of the oldest open to the public. Situated in Gordon Square, close to the British Library and the University of London, it is the preeminent research library for English Protestant dissent, but many of the collections are of international significance.

Dr David Wykes, director of the library, said recently: "The library has been proud to own this remarkable copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, but its sale will secure the finances of the library and safeguard at the same time our important historic collections of manuscripts and printed books for future generations."

Without the First Folio, assembled by Shakespeare's friends and fellow actors in the King's Men Company, John Heminges and Henry Condell, 18 of Shakespeare's plays would not have survived, and so there would be no, for example, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, A Winters Tale, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, or Henry VI Part 1. …