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• History of the Folger
Building the Collection

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Building the Collection

Henry Folger's fascination with Shakespeare began in 1879 when, as a senior at Amherst College, he heard a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson made an indelible impression on the college student, who then read his other works, including a speech Emerson had given in 1864 on the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. It was this text that inspired Henry Folger's lifelong interest in the Elizabethan playwright.


In 1885, Henry Folger married Vassar graduate Emily Jordan. At about that time, he spent $1.25 on a modern facsimile of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's works—the first printed collection of Shakespeare's plays. Henry Folger was so intrigued by the differences between the First Folio and modern Shakespeare editions that Emily Folger later called this facsimile "the cornerstone of the Shakespeare Library." Emily Folger soon came to share her husband's interest in Shakespeare and later earned a master's degree from Vassar for a thesis on "The True Text of Shakespeare."


In 1889, Henry Folger purchased his first rare book, a copy of the Fourth Folio (1685) of Shakespeare's plays. He bid on it himself and purchased it for $107.50. From this modest beginning, the collection grew to encompass books, manuscripts, playbills, paintings, and more, with subjects ranging from Shakespeare and his works to materials that conveyed the essence of Shakespeare's age.


As Henry Folger advanced in the oil industry, serving as president and then chairman of Standard Oil of New York, both he and his wife devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the collection. Their acquisitions soon outgrew the space available in the Folgers' own Brooklyn Heights home, so they sent them to warehouse storage in hundreds of packing cases. Emily Folger kept track of the growing collection in a series of catalogs and notebooks.


Continue ... Founding the Library

Henry Clay Folger's ticket to a lecture by Emerson, 1879

Henry Clay Folger, Jr. Photograph, 1879

Emily Jordan Folger. Photograph, ca. 1885

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