By Humphrey Carter
LAST month a complete First Folio edition of William Shakespeare's plays went for £2.8 million at auction at Sotheby's to leading international rare book dealer Simon Finch who owns the Zembla bookshop in Deya and helped to organise the first Tertulia literary festival in the village two years ago. Finch, is a London-based world leading dealer of antique books and while Shakespeare's First Folio was expected to fetch up to £3.5 million at auction, the auctioneer in charge of the sale, Peter Selley, was “delighted” with the £2.8 million bid made by Finch. The First Folio has been hailed as the most important book in English literature and is credited with saving for posterity many of the bard's plays including “Macbeth”, “Twelfth Night” and “Julius Caesar” which had never before been printed. The First Folio was printed in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death and containing 36 plays. Only about 250 copies of the First Folio survive but most of those are incomplete and are owned by American institutions. The only other copy in private hands similar to the one Finch bought last month was purchased by Paul Getty in 2002 from Oriel College, Oxford, for an estimated £3.5 million. The saleroom record for a comparable copy of $6.2 million was set at Christie's in New York in 2001.
The edition bought by Finch was bound in calf leather in the mid 17th-century and contains extensive markings and annotations that shed light on its early readership. The detailed notes which have been made in the margins of its thick tone, heavy, yellow pages, which are believed to have been made by contemporary scholars, make Finch's purchase unique, apart from its completeness and condition. The copy had more recently been owned by one of the oldest libraries in Britain to be open to the public.
The Dr. Williams's Library, not far from the British Library, decided to put the First Folio up for auction to secure funding for the future of the library and to cover the cost of improving facilities in the library which specialises in non-conformist religious writings. What plans Finch, a regular visitor to Deya, has for the First Folio remains to be seen but hopefully he will reveal all to the Bulletin this week.


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