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Shakespeare’s first folio sells at Christie’s for a record $ 10 million

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Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A rare copy of Shakespeare’s first folio sold for almost $ 10 million on Wednesday, becoming the most expensive literary work to ever auction, according to Christie’s.

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.

The version sold on Wednesday was the first full copy to appear at auction in a went for $ 6.1 million in 2001. It was listed for sale by Mills College in Oakland, California, which had kept the object in its collection since 1977.
A copy of the book on display, ahead of Wednesday's auction, at Christie's in London.

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”.

“(The First Folio) is the greatest work in the English language, certainly the greatest work of theater, so it is something that anyone who enjoys intellectualism should regard as a divine object,” said Loewentheil, who owns stores specializing in rare books and photography in New York and Maryland.

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”.

‘Extraordinarily’ rare

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.”

The final sale price exceeded estimates by the auction house, which forecast higher bids by $ 4-6 million. A number of other items on Wednesday’s sale sold for seven-figure sums – including a Ming Dynasty rug that went under the hammer for over $ 1.7 million – providing further evidence that the high end of the auction market is weathering some of the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“For large objects that really matter, the art, literature and photography markets have remained very strong,” said Loewentheil.

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