Rare copy of Shakespeare’s first folio from 1623 sells for £2m

The copy sold by Sotheby’s  (Sotheby's)
The copy sold by Sotheby’s (Sotheby's)

A rare copy of William Shakespeare’s first folio has sold for $2.4m (£2m).

Printed in 1623, the book titled Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, compiles 36 of the bard’s plays.

On Thursday (21 July), a copy of the first folio sold at Sotheby’s in New York.

In its listing, the text was described as “the most important book in English Literature”.

They estimated that of the 750 copies originally printed, only 232 have survived. Most remain in public libraries and museums, but 20 copies – including this one – are privately owned.

Curated by Shakespeare’s colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell, the 400-year-old book contains 18 plays which had previously not been printed, including Macbeth, Twelfth Night and The Tempest.

As no contemporary manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays survive, it is thought that without the text – known as the first folio by scholars – half of his plays would have been lost.

‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ appears in the folio (Sotheby’s)
‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ appears in the folio (Sotheby’s)

The book’s cover says the texts have been “published according to the True Original Copies”.

It contains an engraved portrait of Shakespeare and tributes by Ben Jonson and other supporters.

The folio was released seven years after Shakespeare’s death aged 52.