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Shakespeare & Beyond

Folger copy 54: The First Folio as family scrapbook

The First Folio in California

Folger copy 54 of the First Folio in San Diego during the First Folio national tour. Photo by Stacy Keck.

Folger copy 54 of the First Folio, which traveled to Hawaii and California during the First Folio national tour in 2016, passed through the hands of many generations of one family for over 250 years before Henry Folger bought it in 1913.

One of its nineteenth-century owners, Captain Charles Hutchinson, clearly valued the book as a reflection on his family’s place in English history. Not only did he restore it, but he also treated it as a scrapbook of sorts, working in details and documents related to his family history.

He believed his ancestors Colonel John Hutchinson and Lucy Hutchinson, who lived at their English estate of Owthorpe during the seventeenth century, to have once owned the First Folio that had come to him in an inherited collection of books and Lucy Hutchinson’s manuscripts, stored in a very large chest.

Lucy and John Hutchinson

John Souch. Portraits at the National Army Museum, said to be of Colonel John Hutchinson (1615-1664) and Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681).

Colonel Hutchinson and his wife were staunch defenders of the Parliamentarian cause, and the colonel was one of the people who signed the death warrant for King Charles I. He was arrested and died in prison after the Restoration.

Lucy Hutchinson became famous for her civil-war “Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson,” which was edited for print for the first time by Captain Hutchinson’s father (from one of the manuscripts found in the chest) and became an important source for English civil-war history. The captain hinted at Lucy Hutchinson’s status as an author in a colorful anecdote about how her manuscript for the “Memoirs” was saved by his father from being used to scrub out a fire grate by a serving girl.

Captain Hutchinson was convinced that because the First Folio was once owned by Lucy and John Hutchinson, it would have “such interest as would, in the estimation of many, make it of more value, than many a fairer Copy.” So he restored the book, and he bound into it his handwritten family history.