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The previously unrecorded copy of perhaps the most important book in English literature, the 1623 issue of Comedies, Histories & Tragedies published seven years after the playwright’s death, came to light after a housewife from Manchester received an unexpected legacy from a relative she never met. Anne Humphries, whose husband runs an aluminium recycling plant, was traced six weeks ago by a genealogist as the next of kin of a distant cousin (the wife of a tailor’s cutter from Tottenham) who had died without leaving a will. However, before the authentication of the book by Bloomsbury specialists who checked it against copies in the British Library, she believed it to be a 19th century facsimile.

It is thought that of the 600 or so copies of the First Folio that were printed in 1623, fewer than 300 survive and only six are in private hands. Most copies have some defects so, while a complete First Folio fetched £4.1m in 2001 (a record for a 17th century book at auction) the conservative estimate on this example of £60,000-80,000 indicates its imperfections. It is missing 40 pages including much of the first play, The Tempest, and the famous engraved portrait of the Shakespeare.