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Rare Copy of William Shakespeare's First Folio Sells for Record $9.98 million at New York Auction

Shakespeare's First folio | Image credit: Reuters (Representational)

Shakespeare's First folio | Image credit: Reuters (Representational)

The book titled Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies is a compilation of 36 plays by Shakespeare, of which 18 works would otherwise have been lost to history.

A rare copy of William Shakespeare's First Folio sold for a record $9.98 million at an auction in New York on Wednesday. The book was the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays that was published in 1623, seven years after the poet’s death. It is regarded as one of the most important collections in English literature.

The book titled Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies is a compilation of 36 plays, of which 18 works would otherwise have been lost to history. Had the book not been printed, Shakespeare’s famous works like Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest would not have existed today. It was published by two of the poet’s friends, John Heminge and Henry Condell.

The book was put up for auction by Mills College in Oakland that had it in possession since 1977. It came in a binding that dates back to the early 19th century. It included a letter from 1809 by scholar Edmond Malone which confirmed its authenticity. It was the first copy to go to auction since another book was sold for $6.1 in 2001.

Though around 750 copies of the First Folio were published, only 235 of them have survived. Most of them are held by institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom. The auction house said the copy sold on Wednesday was one of only five that were in private hands.

The winner of the auction was a book dealer from New York named Stephan Loewentheil, who owns a store with a collection of rare books and photography. He won it after a six-minute tussle with two other buyers over the telephone. Loewentheil described the book as the “holy grail of books”.

"It is the greatest work in the English language, certainly the greatest work of theatre. So it is something that anyone who loves intellectualism has to consider a divine object," Loewentheil was quoted saying by CNN.


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