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Folger First Folio 10

Cropped detail of gilt coat of arms stamped on well-worn dark leather.

We can trace the ownership of Folger First Folio 10 almost all the way back to its publication in 1623. In the mid-1600s, it belonged to Ralph Sheldon, whose coat of arms is stamped on the cover. Sheldon, an antiquarian who had a good library, specialized in genealogy and heraldry. The Sheldon family, which lived 15 miles from Stratford, owned the First Folio for generations.

In the late 18th century, it was sold to John Horne “Parson” Tooke, later described by the Times Literary Supplement as “a clergyman and book collector, of whom it was said that his library did not contain a single Bible.”

Tooke was also, briefly, a Member of Parliament. About two years before he died, he gave his books, including the First Folio, to his friend Sir Francis Burdett, a British politician. The First Folio subsequently passed to Sir Francis’s son Sir Robert Burdett, who then left it to his sister, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. The baroness, a major philanthropist, was also a collector of paintings and books. When her collection was sold in 1922, the Folgers acquired her two First Folios: this one and Folger First Folio 5.

This First Folio includes a rare, alternative leaf that appears in very few First Folios. The play Troilus and Cressida was almost omitted from the First Folio; when it was added, this leaf was used in a small number of copies. One side of it is a duplicate of the last page of Romeo and Juliet, which has been crossed out. The other side begins the first act of Troilus and Cressida. (Most First Folios have a different leaf instead, with Troilus‘s Prologue on the first side and the start of its first act on the other.)

This is the first copy in which the unusual Romeo/Troilus leaf was identified and discussed. It was a great find, as it shed some light on the printing process of the First Folio. Sidney Lee, who compiled the original published “census” of recorded First Folios, noticed it when he looked over the book. In March 1898, he took this First Folio to the Bibliographical Society in London to display his discovery.

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