Shakespeare’s First Folio from 1623 will be on display to visitors at the forthcoming Firsts – London’s Rare Book Fair taking place in Battersea Park next month.
The folio is returning to the UK after a forty-year absence and will be exhibited with other historic source books from the John Wolfson Rare Book Collection, alongside stage props from the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Fair’s charity partner.
Shakespeare’s First Folio: the first edition of his plays Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, which was published in London seven years after his death in 1623, is arguably the most famous book in world literature.
Of the 36 plays assembled by his friends and fellow actors John Heminges and Henry Condell, 18 were being published for the first time and without the First Folio, it is likely that half of Shakespeare’s plays including Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Macbeth and Julius Caesar would have been lost forever.
Of an estimated original print run of about 750 copies, only 235 First Folios are known to survive. A third of these are held in the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington DC, and the rest are carefully safeguarded in institutional or private holdings, so public opportunities to see a First Folio are rare. This copy was acquired by John Wolfson in the 1970s.
The Fair is one of the world’s largest independent marketplaces for rare and out-of-print books. It will present over 150 exhibitors, from 15 countries around the world, offering rare, unique and unusual works including signed first editions, maps, manuscripts, art and ephemera.
Some of the other highlights include:
The earliest and rarely available printed map of Tudor London from 1572, printed by Braun & Hogenberg. It was commissioned by the merchants of the Hanseatic League to curry favour with Queen Mary I in an attempt to retain their tax and customs concessions on wool and finished cloth. The Norman St Paul’s Cathedral is shown with the spire, which was destroyed by lightning in 1561. Offered by Altea Gallery Ltd, £11,000.
A copy, printed on vellum, of the Sermon on the Mount by Owen Jones from 1844. It contains chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of St Matthew and is one of the earliest books to be fully decorated, or ‘illuminated’, throughout. Offered by Antiquates Ltd at £4,500.
David Bailey’s Book of Pin-Ups from 1965, which contains 36 half-tone photographic portraits and is increasingly hard to find. Offered by Foster Books, £7,500.
The fair, which runs from June 7 to 9, will be opened by writer, actor and rare book collector Stephen Fry.