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Shakespeare's first folio goes on sale

india Updated: Jul 14, 2006 12:33 IST

A rare complete copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, widely regarded as one of the most important books in the English language, sold for £2.8 million  (US$5.2 million, euro4.1 million) at auction Thursday.

An anonymous London book dealer purchased the book still in its original 17th-century calf binding during a sale at Sotheby's auction house.

One of about 40 complete copies of the book known to exist, and one of the few in private hands, its value had been estimated at between 2.5 million and £3.5 million (US$4.6 million and 6.4 million; euro3.6 million and euro5.1 million).

Formally titled Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, the First Folio was produced in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death. It contains 36 plays, 18 of which including Macbeth and Twelfth Night were published for the first time. Without the book, scholars say, they might have been lost.

Some 750 copies of the First Folio were printed, and about a third have survived, though most are incomplete, Sotheby's said.

All but a few are in museums, universities or libraries. "Relatively complete copies of the Folio in contemporary or near contemporary bindings very rarely come to the market," said Peter Selley, Sotheby's English literature specialist. "There is only one copy recorded as remaining in private hands."

Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen bought a copy of the First Folio for US$6,166,000 (euro4.8 million at current rates) at Christie's in New York in 2001.

The book auctioned Thursday was sold by the trustees of Dr Williams' Library, a private London library established in the early 18th century under the will of Daniel Williams, a government minister.