The 36-piece collection, released shortly after the playwright’s death, is one of five complete copies still in private hands, the auction house said.
The first folio is considered among the most important collections of literature in the English language. It contains 18 works that had not yet appeared in print, and which would otherwise have been lost to history, including “Macbeth” and “Twelfth Night”.
Published in 1623 by actors John Heminge and Henry Condell, friends of the English playwright, the book is officially titled “Comedies, Stories and Tragedies,” based on the three genres the couple used to categorize plays.
A copy of the book on display, ahead of Wednesday’s auction, at Christie’s in London. Credit: Stuart C. Wilson / Getty Images
After a six-minute bidding battle between three phone buyers, the item was purchased by bookseller and antiques dealer Stephan Loewentheil for $ 9.98 million. In a post-sale phone interview, he described Shakespeare’s original folios as the “holy grail of books”.
In a press release, Margaret Ford, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s, said it was “worthy” that Shakespeare’s work now holds the world record at auction “given its enormous importance and influence. in the whole world”.
Although around 750 copies of the First Folio were produced, only 235 are known to have survived to the present day. Of these, only 56 are considered complete, with nearly all of them now held by institutions in the US and UK, according to Christie’s, whose auction catalog stated that “the extraordinary rarity …
Believing that copies in private hands might “never come back to the market,” Loewentheil said there may not be “too many chances” to get a copy.
Related Video: How Do Auctions Actually Work?
The book came in a binding dating from the early 19th century. It was sold with a letter from Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone from 1809 confirming its authenticity.
Commenting on the condition of the book, Loewentheil – who was able to inspect it in person, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down auction houses around the world – described it as having “integrity.”
“That is: although it has undergone minor repairs over the years, there is a feeling you get from the book … as to whether it has integrity as a object, ”he explained. “And it’s somewhat subjective, which is why I was very happy to see the book myself.”
“For large objects that really matter, the art, literature and photography markets have remained very strong,” said Loewentheil.
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