'Clean and crisp' copy of Shakespeare's rare First Folio achieves $2.36m

There was no doubt about the top lot in Sotheby's books sale yesterday as John James Audubon's Birds of America soared to an unbelievable $11.5m.

However, whilst this is a truly beautiful work, many will have been more intrigued to see a book sold which depended on words rather than pictures. Indeed it's thought that the work introduced large numbers of words into English in its own right.

The work is of course an extremely rare copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays around which all Shakespearean scholarship has revolved since its publication in the early seventeenth century.

First Folio Shakespeare
Rare copy of Shakespeare's First Folio

It is believed that around 1,000 copies of the First Folio were printed. The most recent census (1995-2000) records 228 still in existence. Although some of his works are duplicated elsewhere, the First Folio is the sole source for eighteen of Shakespeare's plays. Needless to sale, it is a rock-solid investment

This copy lacks four preliminary leaves, but, as Anthony West has recorded in his worldwide census of First Folios, "one of the noteworthy features of this copy is the cleanness and crispness of the text leaves, all of which are present. The text is virtually unmarred, with the loss of letters, rather than words, on about ten leaves..."

In general it is in fine condition. With late seventeenth-century or early eighteenth-century (c.1690-1730) English panelled calf with alternating light and dark panels, the work had been estimated at £1m-1.5m (up to just over $2.36m), and very nearly topped that, selling for £1,497,250 ($2,359,860).


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