The auctioneers offered copies of each of the first four folios from two separate sources this week in a four-lot sale at their King Street rooms in London.
Leading the selection on May 25 was a previously unrecorded copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio published in 1623. Estimated at £800,000-1.2m, it came from a descendant of the renowned book collector Sir George Augustus Shuckburgh-Evelyn (1751-1804). It has not been seen in public he had acquired it in c.1800.
Christie’s international head of books and manuscripts Margaret Ford told ATG that it had “sat on same shelf for 200 years”.
“The family were aware of it and knew what it was, but they never crowed about it.” She added that the copy was previously unknown to academics.
Widely considered the most important literary publication in the English language, the First Folio contains 36 plays, 18 of which had not previously been printed and would have otherwise been lost forever.
On the day, the First Folio drew decent bidding and was eventually knocked down at £1.6m to the US collector.
The price was shy of the record $6.16m (£3.73m) including premium for a copy sold at Christie's New York in October 2001 as well as the £2.5m hammer price for the copy from Dr Williams' Library sold at Sotheby’s in July 2006.
However it was above the copy from the collection of Frederick 2nd Lord Hesketh that took a premium-inclusive £1.5m in December 2010, also at Sotheby’s.
Its value was seemingly affected by the fact that its preliminaries were missing including the title page and frontispiece with the engraving of The Bard’s image by Martin Droeshout as well as Ben Jonson’s dedication. It was in a later 18th century binding.
The same US buyer at the current Christie’s sale, purchased the second, third and fourth folios on offer. The latter two volumes come from the same Shuckburgh collection as the First Folio.
The Third Folio, which was published in 1664, is a rarer book than the Second Folio in part due to copies being lost in the Great Fire of London (two years after its publication). The copy at Christie’s was in “extremely good condition” according to Ford and, also in an 18th century binding, it sold at the lower end of its £300,000-400,000 estimate.
The Fourth Folio, which was published in 1685, was estimated at £15,000-20,000 and generated good competition before it was knocked down at £38,000, while the separately consigned Second Folio, published in 1632, got away below estimate at £160,000.
After the sale Ford said: “It is especially exhilarating bringing a newly recorded copy of the First Folio to public attention, and to be able to offer a set of the Four Folios in this important anniversary year.”