William Shakespeare’s First Folio

An original copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio - estimated at $1.5m-2.5m (£1.2m-2m) Sotheby’s New York.

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Widely considered the most important literary publication in the English language, the First Folio contains 36 plays, 18 of which may have otherwise been lost to history.

Assembled seven years after Shakespeare’s death by his colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell, among the works that may otherwise have been lost to history without it were MacbethTwelfth NightAll’s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure and Julius Caesar.

Heminge and Condell were also the first to organise the Bard’s plays into the categories of comedies, tragedies and histories.

Only one third of the first folios that were originally printed survive, with many held in museums, including the Shakespeare Folger Library in Washington, The British Library, New York Public Library, Victoria and Albert Museum and Meisei University in Tokyo.

William Shakespeare’s First Folio

An original copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio offered at Sotheby’s in New York on July 7 with an estimate of $1.5m-2.5m (£1.2m-2m).


The copy coming to auction is thought to be the only one with early Scottish provenance, having been first acquired by the Gordon Family in the early 17th century.

It was later passed down through the generations to famous racehorse breeder and socialite William Stuart Stirling Crawfurd (1819-83), whose bookplate can be seen stuck into the folio's pages.

It was then owned by political activist Prof R W Seton-Watson (1879-1951) who, during and after the First World War, championed the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire and fostered the emergence of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. In the 1960s it crossed the Atlantic to be held the collection of Chicago real estate investor Abel E Berland.

Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, said: “The appearance of a Shakespeare First Folio on the market is always a major event, with so few copies remaining in private hands.

“This copy is particularly special for the traces of the previous owners in its pages, many of whom have left their indelible imprint throughout the book, reminding us that this is also a living piece of human history that captures the ways in which generations of Shakespeare fans have been inspired by The Bard.”

Read more about other First Folio copies and the top prices set in Antiques Trade Gazette No 2464.