Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2006 Issue

Shakespeare First Folio Sells For Over $5 Million

Firstfolio

A Shakespeare First Folio.


By Michael Stillman

A copy of the rare First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays was sold at auction for the first time in five years on July 13, 2006. When the hammer went down at Sotheby's in London, the final bid stood at £2,808,000, or approximately $5,153,000 in U.S. dollars. It was the highest price ever paid for a First Folio at a London auction, and the highest price for any printed book at a Sotheby's London auction. From what we have seen, this appears to be the highest price paid for any book this year, and it is more than was paid for any book or manuscript in 2005 save one -- a copy of the double elephant folio edition of Audubon's Birds of America which went for $5,616,000.

The winning bid was placed by Simon Finch Rare Books of London. However, Finch was not buying on speculation or for stock, but evidently on behalf of a specific buyer. The ultimate buyer was not named. Sotheby's auctioneer and specialist in charge of this sale, Peter Selley, described the final purchaser simply as a "collector."

The price paid was within the estimated range, but did fall at the lower end, and was less than was paid for a copy sold at auction five years ago in New York. Asked whether the lower bid versus the 2001 sale indicated anything about the state of the market, Mr. Selley responded, "The 2001 copy was different, that is all one can say." He noted that in some respects, the 2001 copy was inferior to the one sold by Sotheby's (Dr. Daniel Williams' copy). The earlier copy, he noted, was partly made up, that is, had a few leaves taken from other copies. It also had a later binding. On the other hand, Dr. Williams' copy was missing the "To the reader" leaf at the front, which the previous one contained, a significant drawback. Mr. Selley said that he did not believe the heavy annotations in the Williams' copy, in a very old hand, detracted from the value. "They would add value, if anything," was the view he expressed.

Mr. Selley stated that he believes it is too early to reach any conclusions about the book market based on this sale. At this level, there are not many potential customers, so prices can fluctuate significantly based on the presence or absence of even a single highly motivated buyer. "One has to remember that for the book market any figure above £1 million is a very large sum, perhaps equivalent to £50 - 60m in the picture market," he explains. "There are normally only going to be a very small number of actual bidders on the day."

The Shakespeare First Folio is certainly the most important piece of English literature ever published. Many of Shakespeare's works were not published at the time they were performed, this collection being the only contemporary printing of them. Eighteen of his works, including the likes of MacBeth, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Twelfth Night would almost surely have been lost forever if a group of Shakepeare's admirers had not published this edition in 1623. It is estimated that around 750 copies were printed, and that about a third of them survive. As such it is not the rarest of books, but it certainly is one of the most important ever published.

Dr. Williams' copy had been left to a trust which managed his library. After holding the copy continuously since 1716, the longest any first folio has remained in a single collection, the trust decided to sell its copy so that its value could be used for other purposes. The considerable funds raised in this sale should help the Trust substantially in its other endeavors.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Eric Carle, <i>The Very Hungry Caterpillar,</i> hand-painted collage. Sold for a record $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Couple passing a giant bird house,</i> watercolor cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1948. Sold for $16,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Miriam Troop, <i>Rain on Laundry Day,</i> oil on canvas, cover for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1940. Sold for $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Rockwell Kent, <i>To All Fascists,</i> ink broadside for The League of American Writers, circa 1937. Sold for $6,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Jo Mielziner, <i>Pet Shop Drop,</i> backdrop design for <i>Pal Joey</i> on Broadway, 1940. Sold for a record $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Lee Brown Coye, acrylic cover illustration for the 25th anniversary of <i>Weird Tales,</i> 1944. Sold for $18,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Virgil Finlay, <i>The Outsider & Others,</i> pen & ink dust jacket illustration for H.P. Lovecraft's book, 1939. Sold for $5,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Al Hirschfeld, <i>Paul Robeson as Othello,</i> illustration for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1942. Sold for $68,750
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Illustration Art:</b> Frederic Remington, pen & ink illustration for <i>A Scout with the Buffalo Soldiers</i> in <i>The Century</i> magazine, 1889. Sold for $17,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> EARLY AVIATION PHOTOGRAPHY ARCHIVE. Chronicling 20th century aviation from the earliest Wright Brothers images through commercial and military applications. $50,000 to $70,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> FIRST TELEPHONE CALL TO THE MOON. Partial transcription signed by Apollo 11 astronauts and President Nixon. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> SPUTNIK-1 EMC/EMI LAB MODEL, 1957. Full scale vintage test model of the Sputnik-1 satellite, Moscow, [February, 1957]. $400,000 to $600,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> Apollo 11 Beta cloth crew emblem, SIGNED BY THE ENTIRE APOLLO 11 CREW. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 17:</b> GEMINI 1/8 SCALE MODEL. Rarely seen large-scale contractor's model. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.

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