IT set a British auction record for a Shakespeare First Folio and made the highest price ever seen for a printed book at Sotheby’s London (20/12% buyer’s premium) – but hushed voices at the back of the saleroom were suggesting that the £2.5m hammer price represented pretty good value for a near-perfect copy of the most important book in English literature.
At Sotheby's English Literature and History sale on July 13, two
interested parties in the room contested the Dr Williams' Library
copy of the 1623 compendium of the Bard's plays. With no interest
on the phone, it sold at low estimate to London dealers Simon Finch
Rare Books, who are thought to have been buying for a client.
Sotheby's specialist-in-charge Peter Selley said: "We are
delighted with the price achieved for the First Folio. It has been
a great pleasure to have handled the sale of this remarkable and
However, although £2.5m is clearly a large sum for anyone to pay
for a book, this particular copy of the seminal work was not only
unusually complete, but also had a 17th century binding that may
well have been contemporaneous. Having been part of Dr Williams'
library since at least 1716, it was also the longest-owned copy of
the First Folio by a public library anywhere in the world.
The closest comparable copy - in terms of completeness and
condition - sold at auction took $5.6m (then £3.73m) hammer at
Christie's New York in October 2001. In 2003, Sir Paul Getty is
also thought to have paid £3.5m for the First Folio owned by Oriel
Although the figure paid for the Dr Williams' Library copy is the
second highest price for a First Folio seen at auction, many had
been hoping that it might surpass its £2.5m-£3.5m estimate. In any
case, the money raised from the sale of the book will significantly
help the library by securing its finances and safeguarding their
other important historic collections.
The First Folio contains 36 plays, 18 of which might have been
lost had it not been produced seven years after Shakespeare's death
by the playwright's close companions.
By Alex Capon