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Shakespeare First Folio

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First Folio Forensics

Shakespeare for Kids

Although the First Folio is not considered a very rare book, copies can still be worth a lot of money. On rare occassions, thieves may even try to steal a copy of the First Folio. In the last hundred years, only three First Folios have been stolen. Two have been recovered, but one copy stolen in 1972 is still missing.


A copy known as the Durham Folio made news around the world in 2008 when a mysterious man walked into the Folger Shakespeare Library with an old book he claimed to have been given in Cuba. That old book turned out to be a copy of the First Folio that had been stolen from a university in England in 1998.


Folger staff played an important part in solving this case.  They provided forensic evidence that helped the FBI and British police prove that the book was stolen.


How did they do it?


Folger staff found six features in the mystery Folio that matched features of the Durham Folio.

  • Measurements. The book brought to the Folger had identical dimensions as the Durham Folio.
  • Gilt edges. The edges of the pages were shiny gold, like the Durham Folio.
  • Handwriting. Someone had written the title of the play Troilus & Cressida into the table of contents. The Durham Folio also had this play added.
  • Binding. The binding was made of goatskin, another match.
  • Stitching. In the 1600s, the pages of books were sewn to hold them together. Both the mystery book and the Durham Folio had stitches in the exact same places.
  • Creases and tears. Places where pages have been wrinkled or torn match in both books.


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Did you know?

The highest price paid for a First Folio of Shakespeare's plays is $6.2 million.

Photo Gallery

Durham Folio Evidence

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