Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2013 Issue

Library Director Resigns Over Attempt to Sell Shakespeare Folios

D6afbcba-3392-44c5-a378-9febbe5fb232

A Shakespeare first folio (a different copy).

The Director of the Senate House Libraries at the University of London has resigned over an aborted plan to sell four of the library's Shakespeare folios at auction. Director Christopher Pressler tendered his resignation early last month. Libraries are increasingly facing issues related to deaccessioning old works as needs or wants dictate changes in direction. However, this was not the typical such case, and its circumstances made it particularly controversial among the academic community. It was so controversial that the library was forced to cancel the planned sale and the chief librarian decided it was best to step down.

 

The library had planned to sell four Shakespeare folios, all from the 17th century. One was a first folio, one of the most desirable books ever printed. The four in total were estimated to bring around £5 million, $8 million in U.S. dollars. A couple of reasons were given. One was that the library wished to add to its collection of 20th and 21st century manuscripts. A more general reason was to increase the library's endowment such as to attract more readers and restore National Research Library funding it lost in 2006. Academics, for the most part, found these reasons of dubious merit for an act as momentous as the selling of Shakespeare folios.

 

The library had justified its plan by noting that these were duplicate copies. However, academics argued that each copy of books of this age is unique because of constant press changes, making each essential for study by scholars. They also noted that only 232 copies of the first folio are known to exist, and most are now overseas. An auction sale might well result in a purchase by a wealthy, foreign private collector, resulting in one fewer copy remaining in Shakespeare's homeland.

 

Sir Brian Vickers, a Shakespearean scholar and visiting professor, was particularly pointed in his disputing that multiple copies were essentially the same. The press changes could contain information that has puzzled scholars for generations, bitingly concluding, “so to sell them is an act of stupidity of the highest order.”

 

Adding further to the controversy was the fact that the books had been bequeathed to the library as a permanent gift in 1958 by Sir Louis Sterling. Sir Louis was born in America of immigrant parents. He went to England in 1903 to sell phonographs and stayed, becoming a dominant force in the phonograph and radio business in Europe. His expectation was that the Shakespeare folios would permanently remain in the University of London's library collection.

 

Simon Eliot, Chairman of the History of the Book at the university's Institute of English studies, speaking of abandoning Sir Louis' directions, wrote a letter stating, “It will cast a long and dark shadow over SHL [Senate House Libraries]. Who in the future will trust it? How many collections will it not be offered, how many givers will turn away with the reasonable feeling that the Library and its Trustees cannot be trusted?” Mr. Eliot also observed that the books had already been transferred to Bonham's auction at the time a call went out for comments, making it appear the purpose of soliciting comments was just to (hopefully) receive support for a decision already made.

 

Matters were made still more controversial when it became known that Director Pressler had a long time relationship with a staff member of Bonham's, the auction house selected to make the sale. University regulations require that any such relationships be revealed because of the possibility of a conflict of interest. While acknowledging that rules were not followed, the university, in accepting Mr. Pressler's resignation, emphasized that it was satisfied with his assurances that he acted in good faith and in the best interests of the library. The Bonham's employe was reportedly not involved in the sale.

 

Libraries will continue to face tough decisions in the years ahead, as current needs may compel changes, even with regards to books once donated “permanently.” Forever is a very long time. However, as Mr. Eliot observed, “This is not the first case of a library asset stripping its collections, nor will be the last, but it is a particularly egregious example.” Less egregious examples will be harder to decide.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> KEY, FRANCIS SCOTT. <i>A Celebrated Patriotic Song, the Star Spangled Banner.</i> 1814.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> [COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER, Amerigo Vespucci ..] Bernardus Albingaunensis .. Dialogo nuperrime edito Genue in 1512.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies,</i> 1632.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (WATKINS, TABER &c.). <i>An album of 32 photographs of the Yosemite and American West Various places</i>, c. 1890s
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (BATTLE OF CONCORD.) <i>Powder horn used by Minuteman Oliver Buttrick at the Battle of Concord</i>, April 19, 1775.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (CIVIL WAR.) <i>An Extraordinary Confederate Photograph and Autograph Album of Dr. R. L. C. White</i>, 125 original mounted salt prints. 1859-61.
  • 20 Jul 2016, starts at 1pm EDT, NY
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Full scale vintage <i>Sputnik-1</i> EMC/EMI Lab Model, with live transmitter. US$ 10,000-15,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown SOYUZ-3 space navigation indicator with unflown on-ground transformer. <br>US$ 30,000-40,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown on SOYUZ 9<br>An exhaustive manuscript on life in space. [Trans: On-Board Flight Journal for Spacecraft Soyuz-9, 1970]. US$ 6,000-9,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> SOYUZ 18? Flown Navigation Celestial Globe. Soyuz 18 lasted from May 24-July 26, 1975. US$ 30,000-40,000
    20 Jul 2016, starts at 1pm EDT, NY
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown Space Suit from ISS Expidition 6. Worn by Flight Engineer Don Pettit on his dramitic return to earth. US$ 25,000-35,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Original Gemini 133P Trainer Assembly Five Part Electrical System & Attitude Maneuver ... US$ 60,000-90,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Lunar Rover Development. Collection of 11 vintage gelatin silver prints and 4 vintage NASA lithographs. <br>US$ 2,000-3,000.
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Lunar Orbiter I. The first image of the earth as seen from the moon. Gelatin silver print. August 23, 1966. US$ 2,500-3,500
    20 Jul 2016, starts at 1pm EDT, NY
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Michael Collins' Flown Crew-Signed Apollo 11 Emblem. One of the very few Armstrong signed mission artifacts. US$ 50,000-70,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown Apollo 11 Navigational Chart. Taken to Lunar surface mapping the start of the <br>first manned lunar descent. <br>US$ 25,000-35,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> FFlown Apollo 11 Flight Plan Sheetmission Day One. Some of the first words and data values written by Neil Armstrong. US$ 18,000-25,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Apollo 12 - Alan Bean in the Ocean of Storms. Signed and inscribed by Bean. <br>US$ 2,000-3,000
  • <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Leaves from<br>George Washington's Own Draft <br>of His first Inaugural Address. An Extraordinary Rarity!
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Tyler 1818 - First Print with Facsimile Signatures.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Thomas Jefferson Signed Act of Contress Authorizing Alexander Hamilton to Complete Famous Portland Maine Lighthouse.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Emanuel Leutze. Silk Flag Banner designed by Leutze, created by Tiffany & Co., and presented to Gen. John A. Dix, 1864.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> The "greatest of early American maps … a masterpiece" (Corcoran). Thomas Holme.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Lincoln Summons His Cabinet for a Historic Meeting to Discuss Compensated Emancipation.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Albert Einstein. Autograph Letter Signed. Einstein Counsels His Son ... Meaning of Life.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Normal Rockwell. Painting/Drawing Signed. Rockwell's "Barbeshop Quartet", 1936.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Frederick Douglass. Autograph Letter Signed to unknown correspondent. Washington, D.C.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Harry Truman. Autograph Manuscript Notebook for Kansas City Law School Night Class.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Robert E. Lee. Autograph Letter Signed, June 11, 1782. Hours after the Battle of Culpeper Court House, Lee Escapes Again.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> George Washington. Letter Signed, as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Elias Dayton, Headquarters, [Newburgh, N.Y.], June 11, 1782.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,<br><i>The Chap Book</i>, 1896.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,<br><i>Troupe de Mlle Églantine</i>, 1896.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Philippe Henri Noyer, <br><i>Limonade Brault</i>, 1938. <br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b> <br><i>The Great Men of the World</i>,<br>designer unknown, circa 1945-46. <br>$7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>James Montgomery Flagg,<br><i>Wake Up, America!</i>, 1917.<br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Alfred F. Burke, <i>Share / Jewish <br>Relief Campaign</i>, circa 1915.<br>$3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Ludwig Hohlwein, <i>Marke Pkz / <br>Burger - Kehl & Co.</i>, circa 1911. <br>$8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b> <br>Gian Emilio Malerba,<i> E.A. Mele / Modo e Novita per Signora</i>, circa 1900. $7,000 to $10,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions