Book dealer gets 8-year prison term for stealing Shakespeare tome

The title page of the 1623 First Folio of William Shakespeare's plays.

The title page of the 1623 First Folio of William Shakespeare’s plays.

LONDON (AP) — An unemployed book dealer who paraded as a wealthy playboy was sentenced Monday to eight years in prison for possessing a stolen first edition of Shakespeare’s plays, a rare volume described as a “quintessentially English treasure.”

Last month, a jury cleared Raymond Scott, 53, of stealing the First Folio but found him guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from Britain.

Scott was arrested after he took the 1623 volume to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. two years ago and asked to have it authenticated. Experts there alerted police, who say the folio was stolen from a display case at Durham University in northern England in 1998.

Scott claimed he had found the volume in Cuba and denied all charges.

In passing sentence, Judge Richard Lowden said Scott had tried to use the book to “fund an extremely ludicrous playboy lifestyle” and to impress a woman he had met in Cuba. The judge said Scott was “to some extent a fantasist” but was not suffering from a mental disorder.

Prosecutors said the flamboyant collector drove a yellow Ferrari and posed as an international playboy despite living with his elderly mother on welfare benefits and amassing huge credit-card debts.

Scott arrived for his trial at Newcastle Crown Court in northeast England in June in a silver limousine, sporting a Panama hat and flashing victory signs at reporters.

Durham chief prosecutor Chris Enzor welcomed the sentence, calling Scott “a dishonest con man and serial thief who found himself in possession of a national treasure.”

The First Folio was published seven years after William Shakespeare’s death and was the first collected edition of his plays. Some 750 copies were printed, and about a third have survived, though most are incomplete. Only about 40 complete copies of the book are known to exist, most in museums or public collections.

The stolen copy was shown to the court during the trial, the first time it has been displayed in public for a decade. It was taken into court in a padlocked black strongbox and laid on a pillow next to the witness box.

The folio had its binding and title page cut out after it was stolen to disguise its identity. Independent experts said even in its damaged state it was worth about $1.5 million.

Durham Vice chancellor Chris Higgins said the university was delighted to have the book back but called its mutilation “blatant cultural vandalism.” The university plans to put the folio on display in January as the centerpiece of an exhibition entitled “Durham Treasures.”

Six other centuries-old books and manuscripts, including a 15th-century fragment of poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, were stolen in the same 1998 raid. They have not been recovered.

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