The many events set to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on April 23 will be crowned by a unique opportunity to purchase the first four editions of his collected works.
Taking place at Christie’s on May 25, the sale is led by a highly sought-after example of the First Folio (first and second pictures), bound in crimson leather and tooled, very simply, Shakespeare, The First Edition, 1623. With an estimate of £800,000-£1.2m, it is the most valuable of the four folios and contains 36 of the bard’s plays, 18 of which, including Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Antony and Cleopatra, had never previously been printed and would otherwise have been lost forever. This particular copy was once the property of renowned English book collector Sir George Augustus Shuckburgh-Evelyn, who acquired it in 1800, four years before his death. Having been squirreled away in the family library ever since, its very existence has only recently come to light, bringing the number of surviving First Folios to 233, out of an estimated print run of 750.
The Second Folio (£180,000-£250,000) was published in 1632 and comes to the sale from a private American seller. It includes an epitaph of Shakespeare by John Milton, the latter’s first appearance in print – albeit anonymously.
Also from the Shuckburgh collection, and appearing on the market for the first time in over two centuries, is the Third Folio (£300,000-£400,000, third picture), published in 1664, and the Fourth (£15,000-£20,000), published in 1685. The Third includes the play Pericles for the first time and is rarer than the Second – due to many unsold copies being destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Before the gavel falls, the public are invited to view each lot (fourth picture) when they go on display at Christie’s New York (April 1-8) and at Christie’s London (April 20-28 and May 20-25). “I’m hoping people will feel inspired to do a Shakespeare trail – go to Westminster Abbey and see Poets’ Corner, visit the Globe Theatre and come to us to see the folios,” says Margaret Ford, international head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s London. “It really is a wonderful opportunity to get close to the earliest editions of the greatest playwright in history.”