William Shakespeare’s First Folio to be Offered at Christie’s Sale

The English auctioneer Christie’s announced the auction of William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, often referred to as the “First Folio,” as part of the Exceptional Sale during Classic Week at Christie’s New York on 24 April 2020 (estimate $4,000,000-6,000,000).

© Christie’s Images Limited 2019.

The First Folio, bringing together for the first time the collected plays of Shakespeare, ranks as the greatest work of the English language and, indeed, of world literature. Already celebrated on its first publication, it has remained a highly sought-after masterpiece over four centuries. Only six complete copies are known in private hands. Shakespeare’s First Folio is being sold on behalf of Mills College in Oakland, California.

The First Folio will be toured to London from 13-19 January, New York from 22-27 January, Hong Kong from 17-20 March, Beijing from 1-3 April, and back to New York ahead of the auction on 24 April.

A play by Shakespeare we would probably not know today if not for the First Folio: Macbeth. © Christie’s Images Limited 2019.

© Christie’s Images Limited 2019.

The book was published in 1623 by Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, who collaborated after the writer’s death to compile this authoritative edition of his work. The First Folio contains thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays, including eighteen that may have otherwise been lost forever — among the rescued works are Macbeth, The Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, and Julius Caesar. Heminge and Condell also shaped the way the world would read Shakespeare’s plays by organizing them for the first time into the categories of comedies, tragedies, and histories.

The book’s large size helped elevate the cultural standing of Shakespeare and drama generally, as it assumed an imposing folio format typically reserved at the time for Bibles, theology, and law books.

This remarkable sale marks the first time in nearly 20 years that a complete copy of the First Folio has come to auction. It presents a rare opportunity for collectors to acquire a well-preserved and complete copy of this monument to world literature.

A copy of the First Folio, exhibited at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. Photo: Jessie Chapman / CC BY-SA 4.0.

Margaret Ford, International Head of Group, Books & Manuscripts, London comments, “To handle a First Folio by William Shakespeare is always a privilege and even – given its tremendous significance and influence around the globe – a humbling experience. This copy is especially exciting as one of the very few complete copies surviving in private hands and knowing that it was once in the hands of the great Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone, who himself affirmed its completeness already 200 years ago.”

 

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