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The Collation

Much Ado about Eighty-Two

Seventy-nine.  In the same year the Folger Shakespeare Library turns seventy-nine years old, it updates a number that since the founding of the library has helped define the strength of its collection. It’s the number that was found on all the brochures, ads, encyclopedia articles, and websites.  Seventy-nine was, until a few months ago, the official number of First Folios held at the Folger.

Printed in 1623, the First Folio was the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Not only did it preserve eighteen plays that had not yet been printed, the portrait on its title page remains the most iconic representation of Shakespeare. Over the centuries the First Folio has become one of the most famous and valuable books in the world. While the Folger’s founders, Henry and Emily Folger, acquired a rich collection of artifacts related to Shakespeare and his time, their great love was clearly the First Folio.

Augustine Vincent’s inscription on his copy of the First Folio

Sometime around 1924, Henry Folger began numbering his First Folios. The numbers were not random, but were based on his assessment of a combination of their value, condition, and completeness of the copy. 

  1. Peter W. M. Blayney, The First Folio of Shakespeare (Washington, DC: The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1991), 46.
  2. Blayney, 46.
  3. Antony J. West, “How Many First Folios Does the Folger Hold?” Shakespeare Quarterly 47.2 (1996), 190-194.
  4. West, 196.


Thanks for pointing out the coincidence of the formerly-canonical 79 changing during the Folger’s 79th year! I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t noticed that.

Erin Blake — August 24, 2011