The four Folios as well as a first edition of Shakespeare’s Poems are being offered for a total of US$10.5m (£8.76m) but are also available to buy separately.
Pom Harrington from the firm said the sale is the first time in more than 20 years that all five volumes will be offered together, and the first time in memory that they will be offered by a bookseller rather than an auction house.
He added: “We cannot recall the last time in living memory that a book seller offered all four Folios and the Poems for sale at the same time; the last time the works appeared as a collection was when it was offered by an auction house more than 20 years ago.
“I’ve already been asked several times if we foresee a single collector buying them all. The four Folios have sold to a single buyer before, so I would not rule it out.”
Widely considered the most important literary publication in the English language, the First Folio contains 36 plays, 18 of which may have otherwise been lost to history.
Assembled seven years after Shakespeare’s death, by his colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell, among the works that may otherwise have been lost to history without it were Macbeth, Twelfth Night, All’s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure and Julius Caesar.
Heminges and Condell were also the first to organise the Bard’s plays into the categories of comedies, tragedies and histories.
Only one third of the First Folios that were originally printed survive, with many of the 232 copies held in museums, including the Shakespeare Folger Library in Washington, The British Library, New York Public Library, Victoria and Albert Museum and Meisei University in Tokyo.
Of the copies that Peter Harrington is offering, the First Folio is one of only 27 copies in private hands, the Third Folio is one of three in private hands and the Poems is one of five in private hands.
Peter Harrington acquired the five copies from various private owners.
The group comprises:
Published in 1623, this example is in late 17th or early 18th century English calf binding and the entire text of the plays are complete (have not been made up with pages from other copies of the same work which is sometimes the case). This copy lacks four of the eight preliminary leaves (which are supplied in facsimile). This copy was in the collection of Lord Hesketh in his library at The Easton Neston and is believed to have last sold at auction at Sotheby’s in London on July 12, 2010.
It has an asking price of £6.25m ($7.5m)
Published in 1632, just nine years after the First proved to be a commercial success, and it included as many as 1700 changes when compared with the First Folio. It is also notable for containing the first appearance in print of John Milton, his poem in praise of “my Shakespeare”.
The original edition was probably 1000 copies, shared between five publishers.
The present copy of the Second Folio is described as a “well-margined copy in panelled calf”. It had been restored by bookbinders and restorers James and Stuart Brockman and was last sold by Peter Harrington in December 2003.
It has an asking price of £450,000 ($550,000).
The rarest of all the four folios is the Third. Many copies were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666. It is most commonly encountered in its second issue, published in 1664 with a different title page.
This copy is a rare first issue, with the title page dated 1663. According to Peter Harrington it is one of only three copies to remain in private hands. This copy is reported to have been in a private collection since it was bought at Christie’s New York on April 14, 2004.
It has an asking price of £1.25m($1.5m).
Published in 1685, the Fourth Folio was the last of the 17th-century editions of Shakespeare's works and the most grandly produced. It added seven plays at the end of the volume, although of those, only Pericles is now recognised as Shakespearean.
The most immediately striking aspect of the Fourth Folio is its height. The publishers used a larger paper size to increase the number of lines per page and decrease the bulk of the book. It is in a larger font and more liberally spaced than the three earlier editions. The Fourth Folio dropped the final ‘e’ from Shakespeare's name, a spelling that persisted until the beginning of the 19th century. This copy is in a Regency-period diced russia binding. It is not known when this copy was last sold.
It has an asking price of £185,000 ($225,000).
The 1640 first collected edition of Shakespeare’s Poems is much rarer than either the First or Third Folios, with only 64 copies extant, of which only five remain in private hands. This copy is even rarer in its contemporary binding. This copy of Poems has been in private collections since it was sold at Christie’s London on June 6, 2007.
It has an asking price of £625,000 ($750,000).
The most recent high-profile sale of a copy of the First Folio was at Sotheby’s New York in July 2022 when it sold for $2.47m including buyer’s premium.
The auction record for Shakespeare's First Folio was set in October 2020 at $8.4m (£6.46m) when an ‘original and complete’ copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio sold at Christie's New York to US book dealer Stephan Loewentheil. The price including buyer’s premium was $9.98m (£7.65m).