The sale at Christie's in New York of a Shakespeare First Folio and other early copies of his work has raised $14 million, of which $12 million was accounted for by the First Folio itself. The folio has far exceeded pre-auction expectations that it would draw up to £2.1 million.
This figure broke existing records for a collection of Shakespeare's plays, and indeed for any 17th-century book. The cost reflects not just the rarity of the book itself, but the unique position that Shakespeare holds as the greatest playwright in history, whose works continue to fill theatres - and, indeed, cinemas - nearly four hundred years after his death. That he should also pack auction houses comes, therefore, as no surprise.
The first folio was part of the Berland Library which contains the Four Folios of Shakespeare. The library was built by real estate mogul and avid collector Abel Berland. This 1623 edition is the finest copy in private hands and is one of only three complete Folios in the United States.
In 1744 the Folio passed by marriage into the John Dryden family and remained there until 1913, when it was sold to Bernard Quaritch. Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach of Philadelphia, called by Nicholas Basbanes the "20th Century's best-known bookseller," became repeatedly involved with this Folio, being the agent for its passing into the hands of Commodore Mortimore Plant, Frank Bemis, and Morris Wolf, father of Edwin Wolf II and Manager of Rosenbach's Philadelphia shop. In 1961 it was auctioned at Sotheby's in London and bought by dealer John Fleming of New York City for Marjorie Newton, who acquired it to give as a gift to her alma mater. A dispute, however, interfered with the donation, and it was returned to Fleming. Berland bought it in 1970.
Ten years ago a later edition of the first folio sold for £1.4 million.
—by Paul Webb Theatrenow