Nov 22, 2010

Most Expensive Books of the World - Part I: FIRST FOLIO

In a world that is becoming increasingly digitised, (what with the advent of kindle and ipad) the printed word has taken on a special value – especially if it happens to be enshrined in a rare, beautifully designed and historically significant book. People are willing to pay incredible sums of money just to own and hold a copy of one of these rare, antiquated gems.

From the first book ever to be printed, to comic books... limited editions seem to be extremely popular in the collector's market.



The first edition of Shakespeare’s plays, is widely considered to be one of the most important books in the world. Printed in folio format and containing 36 plays, it was prepared by Shakespeare's colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell and published in 1623, about seven years after Shakespeare's death.

The Stationers Company who published the book were the booksellers Edward Blount and the father/son team of William and Isaac Jaggard.

The first folio, published in 1623 (now virtually unobtainable), is the first complete collection of Shakespeare's plays; without it, the English-speaking world would have little or no record of many of the greatest and most influential works in the Western world. Three seventeeth-century folio editions followed: The Second Folio, 1632; The Third Folio, 1663-64; The Fourth Folio, 1685.

Harold M. Otness, in his 1990 census of Shakespeare folios, explains: "The number of copies of each edition printed is lost, but speculation puts the press runs at several hundred copies each... American institutions hold at least 561 copies of the four editions combined, which may constitute as many as half of the extant copies worldwide."

The thirty-six plays of the First Folio occur in the order given below; plays that had never been published before 1623 are marked with an asterix*.

- The Tempest*
- The Two Gentlemen of Verona*
- The Merry Wives of Windsor
- Measure for Measure*
- The Comedy of Errors*
- Much Ado About Nothing
- Loves Labour Lost
- A Midsummer Nights Dream
- The Merchant of Venice
- As you Like It*
- The Taming of the Shrew*
- Alls Well That Ends Well*
- Twelfth Night*
- The Winters Tale*

- King John*
- Richard II
- Henry IV, Part 1
- Henry IV, Part 2
- Henry V
- Henry VI, Part 1*
- Henry VI, Part 2
- Henry VI, Part 3
- Richard III
- Henry VIII*

- Troilus and Cressida
- Coriolanus*
- Titus Andronicus
- Romeo and Juliet
- Timon of Athens*
- Julius Ceasar*
- Macbeth*
- Hamlet
- King Lear
- Othello
- Anthony and Cleopatra*
- Cymbeline

Performing Shakespeare using the First Folio:
Some Shakespeare directors, and theatre companies producing Shakespeare, believe that modern editions of Shakespeare's plays, which are heavily edited and changed to be more readable, remove possible actor cues in the Folio, such as capitalization, different punctuation and even the changing or removal of whole words. Today, many theatre companies and festivals producing the works of Shakespeare use the First Folio as the basis for their theatrical productions and training programs, including London's Original Shakespeare Company (founded and led by Patrick Tucker) - a theatre company which works exclusively from cue scripts drawn from the First Folio.

Modern Sales and Evaluation:

On 13 July 2006, a complete copy of the First Folio owned by Dr Williams's Library was auctioned at Sotheby's auction house. The book, which was in its original 17th century binding, sold for £2.5 million hammer price, less than Sotheby's top estimate of £3.5 million. This copy is one of only about 40 remaining complete copies (most of the existing copies are incomplete); only one other copy of the book remains in private ownership.

While, the First Folio's original price was 1 pound, the equivalent of about £95-£110 or US$190 to $220 in todays times, at present the book's value is estimated at $22.5 million.


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