At Bonhams New York (25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) on June 12 a bound set of those pages, perhaps removed at some point from a defective copy, sold at $140,000 (£104,475).
Contained in a modern binding of red crushed morocco, some of those pages were quite tightly trimmed or shaved, but no earlier printing, no manuscript or prompt book for the play is known to have survived, so the First Folio provides the only known source for the text.
The first separate printing of the play was not seen until 1684.
Only a handful individual of plays by Shakespeare have made more at auction – top of the bill being a copy of The Merchant of Venice in the Robert S Pirie library, which at Sotheby’s New York in December 2015 made $440,000 (then £293,330).
Bearing the date 1600 on the title-page, but actually printed in 1619, it was a superb, unwashed and entirely unsophisticated second edition copy of one of the quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays printed by William Jaggard for Thomas Pavier.
These quartos were part of a plan that was never fully realised, to produce a collected issue of the plays. It was one embarked upon just two years after Shakespeare’s death and a full four years before the appearance of the First Folio.
Aesop’s Fables first appeared in print, in Latin, in 1470. A first Greek text edition followed in 1478 and William Caxton printed the first English language version in 1484.
The earliest illustrated edition had been produced in Ulm in 1476 by Gunther Zainer, and the woodcuts used in that version were soon being copied and printed, sometimes in reverse, by others.
The first edition to be printed in Switzerland was one of them, and it was an example of that version, printed at Basel by Jacob Wolff of Pforzheim no later that 1489, that sold for $85,000 (£63,430) in this Bonhams New York auction.
A complete copy of this first Swiss Vita et Fabulae, containing a full-page frontispiece of Aesop and 192 other woodcuts, it was in a fine 19th century binding of burgundy morocco and was a copy formerly in the collections of CW Dyson Perrins and Silvain Braunschweig.