Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2016 Issue

Results: 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's Death Brings Special Items to Sale

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A Shakespeare Folio for each century since his death

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Dubbed "the first universal author" by American literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University Harold Bloom, and described by his contemporary Ben Jonson as "not of an age but for all time," Shakespeare was celebrated in life, and even more so in death. His influence on the literary world has not wavered, being universally studied and analyzed in high school and college classrooms. To celebrate the anniversary, last month Christie's London held a special four item sale of Shakespeare items. We'll get to those results a little further down.

As the greatest writer in the English language, printings and publications of Shakespeare are innumerable. However, material contemporary to Shakespeare's time is far more rare. During his lifetime, Elizabethan playwrights did not prioritize seeing their works in print. Dramas were rarely meant to be read in addition to being performed. Nineteen of the thirty-seven plays in Shakespeare's canon were printed in quarto format, though for over two centuries were mostly considered fraudulent because playwrights were often uninvolved and even unaware of the printings. Modern opinion on the quartos shifted in the late nineteenth century with a reexamination of the quartos, and they are now considered for the most part to be "good" and honest printings not stemming from piracy or plagiarism.

A collection of Shakespeare's work did not appear in print until 1623 with the publishing of Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, also known as the First Folio. The importance of this publication cannot be understated. Eighteen plays appear in print for the first time—material that would have otherwise been lost to history. The plays that appeared here first are: Macbeth, The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, All's Well That Ends Well, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Measure for Measure, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Winter's Tale, King John, Henry VI part 1, Henry VIII, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Cymbeline. Three plays now accepted as genuine in whole or in part were not included: Pericles, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Sir Thomas More.

So what items did Christie's auction? It's been 400 years since Shakespeare died, so it was only fitting for them to offer the Four Folios. The Second, Third, and Fourth Folios are successive reprintings stemming from the First Folio, with certain additions. The Second, for example, contains John Milton's first appearance in print via an epitaph on Shakespeare, while the Third and Fourth Folios contain the added play Pericles. The First Folio is considered the most desired item, for obvious reasons, however the four combined make for an extremely impressive set. Christie's also states that the Third Folio is actually the rarest.

The First Folio of Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, edited by John Heminge and Henry Condell, and printed in London in 1623 (third issue), was estimated for £800,000-1,200,000. This previously unknown copy sold for a final price of £1,874,500 and is the second highest realized price for a copy of the First Folio in the Rare Book Transaction History (a different copy sold at Sotheby's in 2006 for £2.8M). The Second Folio carried an estimate of £180,000-250,000 and sold towards the low end of estimates for £194,500. The Third Folio was estimated £300,000-400,000, and being the rarest of the Four, fared better than the Second Folio, going for £362,500. Finally, the Fourth Folio was estimated £15,000-20,000, and on a percentage basis beat its estimate by the largest margin by selling for £47,500, more than double the high estimate. All told, the four items combined for sales of £2,479,000, or $3,621,248.83, surpassing the sale's total high estimate of £1,870,000.

Complete lots for the sale are already available within the Rare Book Transaction History and the auction report on Rare Book Hub is available here. The catalog with lots and images are available directly on the Christie's website here.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500

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