Books | October 15, 2020 12:45 pm

An Original Copy of Shakespeare’s First Full Collection Sold for $10 Million at Auction

The price set a record for a First Folio copy

Shakespeare's First Folio
Shakespeare's First Folio is largely credited with preserving some of his best-known plays.
DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images

In what has been called a once-in-a-generation event, a complete and original copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio sold for a record-setting price just under $10 million at auction earlier this week.

The First Folio, published in 1623, was the first complete printed collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Published seven years after the author’s death, the book marked not only the first complete collection of Shakespeare’s works, but also the first time those works were organized as comedies, tragedies and histories. There are around 235 copies known to exist, and only six complete ones owned privately.

“A complete copy of the First Folio comes up more or less once in a generation,” Margaret Ford, the International Head of Books and Manuscripts at Christie’s, told NPR.

The copy sold Wednesday to rare book collector Stephan Loewentheil, who secured the purchase via phone bid. Coming in just under $10 million, the sale set a record for a First Folio copy. The last time one came up for auction in 2001, it set a record for selling for over $6 million. This time around, the copy was only estimated to sell for $4 million to $6 million.

The Folio contains 18 plays that had never previously been printed, including masterpieces like Macbeth, The Tempest and Julius Caesar.

“Those 18 plays very likely would not have survived were it not for the first printing of the Folio,” said Ford. “These plays ensured that Shakespeare’s memory was kept alive.”