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Bard's First Folio's sale

A complete First Folio of the Bard's plays is expected to fetch millions when it goes on sale in July.

india Updated: Apr 03, 2006 15:02 IST

A complete First Folio edition of William Shakespeare's plays, in prime condition and still in its 17th century calf leather binding, is expected to fetch up to £3.5 million ($6.10 million) when it goes on sale in July.

Hailed by auctioneer Sotheby's as the most important book in English literature, the First Folio is credited with saving for posterity many of the bard's plays including Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar which had never before been printed.

"The First Folio preserves 18 of his plays, including some of the most major, which otherwise would have been lost for all time," English literature specialist Peter Selley said as the volume was put on show yesterday.

"Relatively complete copies of the Folio in contemporary or near contemporary bindings very rarely come to market. There is only one copy recorded as remaining in private hands," he added.

The only copy in private hands similar to the one going for sale was bought by Paul Getty in April 2002.

Printed in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death and containing 36 plays, only about 250 copies of the First Folio survive and most of those are incomplete.

The volume up for sale on July 13 has been in the William's Library -- a key research facility for English Protestant dissent -- since about 1716, making it the longest uninterrupted ownership by a public library of any copy in the world.

Daniel Williams, the leading dissenting minister of his time, acquired the Folio when he bought the library of fellow nonconformist William Bates, who was probably the original owner.

"The library has been proud to own this remarkable copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, but its sale will secure the finance of the library and safeguard our important historic collections of manuscripts and printed books for future generations," said the library's director David Wykes.

The thick tome with its heavy, yellowing pages and portrait of England's leading playwright on the front is not only unique for its completeness and condition.

It contains detailed notes in the margins made, it is believed, by contemporary scholars and giving an insight into the understanding and interpretation of the wordsmith's masterworks soon after his own era.

"The profusion of markings in this volume does much to illuminate a contemporary or near-contemporary reader's taste for, and in some measure interpretation of, Shakespeare's works," said Sotheby's English manuscript expert Peter Beal.