Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2016 Issue

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

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

  • Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Closing Time, Advance Readers Copy of Uncorrected Proof with a letter from Heller on his personal stationary
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Gates, Bill, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, N Y: Knopf, 2021; first edition, with a handwritten note from Bill Gates
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Catch-22, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961, first edition, first printing, first issue dust jacket, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Something Happened, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, first edition, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, London: John Murray, 1818, in four volumes
  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    BROWSE NOW
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Crosby-Schøyen Codex. In Coptic, manuscript on papyrus [Upper Egypt, middle 3rd century / 4th century]. £2,000,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Geraardsbergen Bible. In Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Southern Netherlands, late 12th century]. £700,000–1,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now : Jean de Courcy (fl. 1420). The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere. In French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1480]. £200,000–300,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours. In Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1485]. £120,000–180,000
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions