Shop  |  Calendar  |  Join  |  Buy Tickets  |  Hamnet  |  Site Rental  |  Press Room  
About UsWhat's OnUse the CollectionDiscover ShakespeareTeach & LearnFolger InstituteSupport Us
Folger Exhibitions
• Past Exhibitions
Fame, Fortune, & Theft
Continuing Stories of the First Folio

   Sign up for E-news!
   Printer Friendly

Continuing Stories of the First Folio

400 years later, and new discoveries are still being made

For a book nearly 400 years old, and one as closely studied as the First Folio, one would think there are no new stories to tell. In fact, Folios continue to trade hands – though infrequently – and discoveries continue to be made. In 2003, Anthony James West published A New Worldwide Census of First Folios, documenting all known copies of the First Folio around the world. Since its publication, four more copies have surfaced, bringing the grand total of known Folios to 232. In his Census, West noted that one of the copies at the Folger Shakespeare Library had the manuscript notation “Constanter” on its title page. In 2009, with the help of Dutch scholars Dr. C. J. Verduin and Dr. Ad Leerintveld, and UV photographs of the First Folio’s title page taken by staff in the Folger’s conservation lab, this signature and another manuscript annotation were identified as the ownership marks of Dutch diplomat, poet, and book collector Constantine Huygens.


Huygens was known for signing and dating his books upon purchase. The faded, nearly invisible date “1647” can be seen above the publication details on the title page when viewed in ultra-violet light. Using the UV photography, and with the expertise of Dr. Leerintveld – the world’s leading authority on Huygens’s handwriting – Dr. West determined that Huygens owned this First Folio in 1647, thus making it the earliest known First Folio to leave England.

Shakespeare. Plays. 1623. London, 1623

Tracing the global diaspora of First Folios on a map, one can see that the bulk of thess volumes changed hands between 1850 and 1950. However, Kodama Library at Meisei University in Tokyo acquired most of its twelve First Folios in the 1980s. Kodama is now the second largest repository of First Folios in the world, behind only the Folger Library. Only about twenty First Folios remain in private hands, the vast majority of them being held by private institutions, so sales are now infrequent. Even so, two First Folios have traded hands in the twenty-first century.


And, of course, conservation work on First Folios continues to be done. At the Folger, the conservation policy is a conservative one. Although several First Folios in the Folger collection are damaged, all have been stabilized and housed in protective boxes or coverings to mitigate any further deterioration. Massive treatments are not generally undertaken. However, in the 1990s, one extensive conservation treatment was done on Folger Folio no. 79. This Folio had previously been beautifully bound in the eighteenth century, probably by binder Chritian Samuel Kalthoeber. The binding was so acidic, however, that it was causing the Folio’s paper to disintegrate. In an effort to preserve it, conservators took the Folio apart, washed the paper, and mended it with a process called leafcasting, in which tears and paper losses were filled with paper pulp. Still brittle, the repaired paper was lined with ultrathin tissue. Thus stabilized, the volume was rebound in the manner of the earliest First Folios, although the eighteenth-century binding was preserved as part of the Folio’s history.

Shakespeare. Plays. 1623. London, 1623 (Detail)

Shakespeare. Plays. 1623. London, 1623 (Detail)

12 First Folios at Kodama Memorial library Meisei Univeristy, Tokyo.


Conserving a First Folio

Bookmark and Share   
     Copyright & Policies   |   Sitemap   |   Contact Us   |   About This Site
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Get directions »

Federal Tax ID #04-2103542
PublicReading Room
10am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday8:45am to 4:45pm, Monday through Friday
12pm to 5pm, Sunday9am to noon and 1pm to 4:30pm, Saturday
Main: 202 544 4600
Box Office: 202 544 7077
Fax: 202 544 4623