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Christie’s to auction Shakespeare’s ‘First Folio’ in April  

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), ‘Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies,’ London: Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623. Estimate: $4 million-$6 million. Christie’s Images Ltd. 2020

NEW YORK – Christie’s will auction William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, often referred to as the “First Folio,” as part of the Exceptional Sale during Classic Week at Christie’s New York on April 24 (estimate $4 million-$6 million).

The First Folio, bringing together for the first time the collected plays of Shakespeare, ranks as the greatest work of the English language and, indeed, of world literature. Already celebrated on its first publication, it has remained a highly sought-after masterpiece over four centuries. Only six complete copies are known in private hands. Shakespeare’s First Folio is being sold on behalf of Mills College in Oakland, California.

The First Folio will be toured to London from Jan. 13-19; New York, Jan. 22-27; Hong Kong, March, 17-20, Beijing, April 1-3; and back to New York ahead of the auction on April 24.

The book was published in 1623 by Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, who collaborated after the writer’s death to compile this authoritative edition of his work. The First Folio contains 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, including 18 that may have otherwise been lost forever — among the rescued works are Macbeth, The Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure and Julius Caesar.

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare’s ‘Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies,’ commonly referred to as the ‘First Folio.’ Christie’s Images Ltd. 2020

Heminge and Condell also shaped the way the world would read Shakespeare’s plays by organizing them for the first time into the categories of comedies, tragedies and histories. The book’s large size helped elevate the cultural standing of Shakespeare and drama generally, as it assumed an imposing folio format typically reserved at the time for Bibles, theology and law books.

This remarkable sale marks the first time in nearly 20 years that a complete copy of the First Folio has come to auction.

“To handle a First Folio by William Shakespeare is always a privilege and even – given its tremendous significance and influence around the globe – a humbling experience,” said  Margaret Ford, Chrisitie’s International Head of Group, Books & Manuscripts, London. “This copy is especially exciting as one of the very few complete copies surviving in private hands and knowing that it was once in the hands of the great Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone, who himself affirmed its completeness already 200 years ago.”

The current auction record for a Shakespeare First Folio is $6,166,000, set by Christie’s on Oct. 8, 2001 in New York.