Security was casual, to say the least, when wealthy UC Irvine alumnus Patrick Hanratty donated a rare first edition of Shakespeare's collected plays--a "first folio," published in 1623, that contains all of the Bard's comedies, tragedies and histories, including 18 plays that had never previously been published--to his alma mater Tuesday afternoon.
Around 4 p.m., when about 60 people--from Friends of the Library, the UCI staff and the community--were assembled on the library's first floor, Hanratty appeared. He carried a plain golden-brown leather briefcase containing the book, which cost him $241,000 three years ago. At one point, engaged in conversation, he set the case down--and turned his back on it.
The book was still there, however, when the official presentation ceremonies began. Calvin Boyer, the university librarian, said the book's safety lay partly in its resemblance to something that might be found at Goodwill or in a used bookstore.
The volume did not, it's true, look as if it had been printed 363 years ago. Its unyellowed pages (made from non-acidic rag paper) showed no obvious rips, the print was still clear and the red morocco leather with which it was re-bound in the early 19th Century was almost immaculate. But the book, Hanratty said, was authenticated as a first folio by Sotheby's, the New York auction house.
The folio, one of an estimated 240 copies left in the world (79 of them are at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, and others are in private, museum and university collections), will be stored in a vault at least temporarily and brought out only at special request, according to Roger Berry, UCI's special collections librarian.
"I'm the one who has to take it to the vault," Berry said, looking simultaneously delighted and nervous. "I hope I get a police escort." The book, he said, sold for only one English pound in 1623 (seven years after Shakespeare's death), but its value grows dramatically every year. The university plans to insure it for about $300,000, Berry said.
Boyer said the book may end up on permanent display once the university acquires the necessary heavy glass-fronted case and alarms. Students, faculty and non-UCI scholars also will sometimes be allowed to touch and read the folio, he said. The book's "value is in using it and looking at it and handling it," Boyer said. "It's our intention that it be available to those who can get some benefit from it."
"Little did we dream 20 years ago that in one week (in 1986) we would acquire a Shakespeare folio and beat the UCLA basketball team," UCI Chancellor Jack Peltason said during the brief donation ceremony. (The assembled crowd laughed and applauded; UCI was established in 1965, and its basketball team defeated UCLA in a National Invitation Tournament game last week.)
"Scholars from all over the world will come" to UCI as a result of the first folio donation, Peltason said, and the book "will be a treasure for generations."
"Am I supposed to give this to you now?" Hanratty inquired as he went to the podium carrying the folio. After he handed the book to Boyer, he was made a lifetime Friends of the Library member.
Hanratty, who lives in Laguna Hills, said he has loved Shakespeare since he was 6 years old, when he read "Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare" (19th-Century versions of Shakespeare's stories, adapted for children by English poet Charles Lamb). His love for the Elizabethan plays carried over into his adult years, he said, and led him to start collecting rare Shakespeare editions.
He previously had purchased several other early Shakespearean publications, he said, but only the first folio went into his private vault. However, "I noticed that after a year it had begun to smell, and to smell very badly" in the stuffy vault. For a while, Hanratty said, he thought about selling the folio. "But then I thought, well, I would like to see it again someday," he said. "I thought it would be better if it were available to everybody else, and to myself."
He decided to make the tax-deductible donation to UCI, he said, because "I feel that UCI is an emerging academic institution, and I felt that this (book) might be a catalyst to try and grow an academic center here, to increase people's awareness of the university."
Hanratty grew up in San Diego. His parents worked on Old Globe Theatre productions, he said, so "it was natural that I fell in love with Shakespeare." He himself played bit parts in several Old Globe productions of Shakespeare plays, but his real ambition was to be a professional opera singer, he said. However, as an Air Force gunner during the Korean War he was in a plane crash and suffered severe internal burns. With his lungs badly scarred, he was forced to think about another career.