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Rare Folio of Shakespeare's works will go to auction

April 03, 2006|From the Associated Press

LONDON — A rare complete copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays will go on sale in London on July 13, Sotheby's auction house said.

The complete compendium of 36 plays, being sold by the trustees of Dr. Williams' Library in London, is still in its 17th century calf binding, Sotheby's said. The auctioneer expects the book to sell for as much as $6.1 million -- the figure that a comparable copy of the 900-page First Folio fetched in a 2001 sale at Christie's in New York.

Some 750 copies of the First Folio were printed, and about a third survived, though most are incomplete, Sotheby's said.

The small printing in 1623 was the first for 18 of Shakespeare's plays. Without the book, they might have been lost.

"If they [the Folios] weren't printed, we wouldn't have 'Macbeth' or 'Twelfth Night,' and we wouldn't know the full range of Shakespeare's work," said Kate McLuskie, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.

During his lifetime, Shakespeare made no effort to have his plays published and it was left to two managers in the Bard's acting company to preserve the works.

Many of the Folios include handwritten comments by readers, McLuskie said, and this "tells us what people knew about Shakespeare and his reputation at the time. It is invaluable."

And while the Folio that Sotheby's is selling is not unique -- there are about 40 complete Folios in existence -- it is rare that a copy of the book is made available to private collectors.

Dr. Williams' Library, in London, was established in the early 18th century under the will of Daniel Williams, a government minister. Its director, David Wykes, said the sale of the First Folio "will secure the finances of the library and safeguard our important historic collections of manuscripts and printed books for future generations."

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