400-Year-Old First Edition Shakespeare Text Goes On Display

A first edition of a Shakespeare text dating from 1623 has been put on display in the Guildhall Library in London.

The book was published just seven years after the writer’s death and contains all of his plays. Actors John Heminge and Henry Condell compiled the book as a tribute to Shakespeare’s work.

There were around 750 copies of this particular edition printed, with it being sold at the time for amounts ranging between 15 shillings and one pound. The folio edition belonging to the Guildhall Library is not for sale, but one in a similar condition sold for around £10m in 2020.

Discussing the book, Principal librarian of Guildhall Library, Peter Ross, told the BBC: “There were around 750 copies of the first edition printed and around 235 survive today. Only a quarter of those copies are complete and amongst the best in the world is this one. It’s remarkable for its completeness and quality of paper.”

Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage, and Libraries Committee, Wendy Hyde, echoed his sentiment, adding that this display represented a great opportunity for locals. She said: “I think it’s very inspiring for Londoners to appreciate their fantastic history. The First Folio is a truly remarkable book and… everyone will be given the rare opportunity to see it up close at Guildhall Library.”

The exact copy that will be on display was purchased by William Petty Fitzmaurice (who would later become the UK’s Prime Minister) in the 18th century. It was then purchased by London Institution when Petty Fitzmaurice’s library was sold in 1806.

The book was then transferred to the Guildhall Library k in 1913, but it is rarely exhibited due to its delicate nature. Along with this piece of historical literature, another folio edition and two smaller original copies of Henry IV Part One and Othello will also be on display within the library.