Even the facsimile editions of the First Folio are increasingly becoming scarce — this book is an exact reproduction of the first very complete edition of Shakespeare’s works as published in 1623. Please see here for images of the interior.
Shakespeare’s First Folio (from wikipedia):
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare’s plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio.
Printed in folio format and containing 36 plays (see list of Shakespeare’s plays), it was prepared by Shakespeare’s colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell. It was dedicated to the “incomparable pair of brethren” William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke and his brother Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery (later 4th Earl of Pembroke).
Although eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays had been published in quarto prior to 1623, the First Folio is the only reliable text for about twenty of the plays, and a valuable source text even for many of those previously published. The Folio includes all of the plays generally accepted to be Shakespeare’s, with the exception of Pericles, Prince of Tyre and The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the two “lost plays”, Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won.
Holdings, sales, and valuations
The First Folio’s original price was 1 pound, the equivalent of about £95–£110 or US$190 to $220 in 2006. Like most books of that time the Folio was sold unbound and buyers would spend another pound or two to have it bound in leather, with various embellishments.
It is believed that around 750 copies of the First Folio were printed. The most recent census (1995–2000) records 228 still in existence. The British Library holds the following copies: 1st impression (1623) – 2 copies; 2nd impression (1632) – 5 copies; 3rd impression (1663) – 1 copy, total 8 copies. The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. holds the world’s largest collection with 82 copies. Another collection (12 copies) is held at Meisei University in Tokyo, Japan, including the Meisei Copy (coded MR 774), said to be unique because of annotations by its reader.
The First Folio is one of the most valuable printed books in the world: a copy sold at Christie’s in New York in October 2001 made $6.16m hammer price (then £3.73m).
Oriel College, Oxford, raised a conjectured £3.5 million from the sale of its First Folio to Sir Paul Getty in 2003.
On 13 July 2006, a complete copy of the First Folio owned by Dr Williams’s Library was auctioned at Sotheby’s auction house. The book, which was in its original 17th century binding, sold for £2.5 million hammer price, less than Sotheby’s top estimate of £3.5 million. This copy is one of only about 40 remaining complete copies (most of the existing copies are incomplete); only one other copy of the book remains in private ownership.
On 11 July 2008 it was reported that a copy stolen from Durham University, England, in 1998 had been recovered after being submitted for valuation at Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., in the United States. The folio’s value was estimated at up to £15 million. Although the book, once the property of John Cosins the Bishop of Durham, was returned to the library, it has been mutilated and is missing its cover and title page. The folio was returned to public display on 19 June 2010 after its 12 year absence.
The thirty-six plays of the First Folio occur in the order given below; plays that had never been published before 1623 are marked with an asterisk. Each play is followed by the type of source used, as determined by bibliographical research.
Table of Contents from the First Folio
1 The Tempest * – the play was set into type from a manuscript prepared by Ralph Crane, a professional scrivener employed by the King’s Men. Crane produced a high-quality result, with formal act/scene divisions, frequent use of parentheses and hyphenated forms, and other identifiable features.
2 The Two Gentlemen of Verona * – another transcript by Ralph Crane.
3 The Merry Wives of Windsor – another transcript by Ralph Crane.
4 Measure for Measure * – probably another Ralph Crane transcript.
5 The Comedy of Errors * – probably typeset from Shakespeare’s “foul papers,” lightly annotated.
6 Much Ado About Nothing – typeset from a copy of the quarto, lightly annotated.
7 Love’s Labour’s Lost – typeset from a corrected copy of Q1.
8 A Midsummer Night’s Dream – typeset from a copy of Q2, well-annotated, possibly used as a prompt-book.
9 The Merchant of Venice – typeset from a lightly edited and corrected copy of Q1.
10 As You Like It * – from a quality manuscript, lightly annotated by a prompter.
11 The Taming of the Shrew * – typeset from Shakespeare’s “foul papers,” somewhat annotated, perhaps as preparation for use as a prompt-book.
12 All’s Well That Ends Well * – probably from Shakespeare’s “foul papers” or a manuscript of them.
13 Twelfth Night * – typeset either from a prompt-book or a transcript of one.
14 The Winter’s Tale * – another transcript by Ralph Crane.
15 King John * – uncertain: a prompt-book, or “foul papers.”
16 Richard II – typeset from Q3 and Q5, corrected against a prompt-book.
17 Henry IV, Part 1 – typeset from an edited copy of Q5.
18 Henry IV, Part 2 – uncertain: some combination of manuscript and quarto text.
19 Henry V – typeset from Shakespeare’s “foul papers.”
20 Henry VI, Part 1 * – likely from an annotated transcript of the author’s manuscript.
21 Henry VI, Part 2 – probably a Shakespearean manuscript used as a prompt-book.
22 Henry VI, Part 3 – like 2H6, probably a Shakespearean prompt-book.
23 Richard III – a difficult case: probably typeset partially from Q3, and partially from Q6 corrected against a manuscript (maybe “foul papers”).
24 Henry VIII * – typeset from a fair copy of the authors’ manuscript.
25 Troilus and Cressida – probably typeset from the quarto, corrected with Shakespeare’s “foul papers.”
26 Coriolanus * – set from a high-quality authorial transcript.
27 Titus Andronicus – typeset from a copy of Q3 that might have served as a prompt-book.
28 Romeo and Juliet – in essence a reprint of Q3.
29 Timon of Athens * – set from Shakespeare’s foul papers or a transcript of them.
30 Julius Caesar * – set from a prompt-book, or a transcript of a prompt-book.
31 Macbeth * – probably set from a prompt-book.
32 Hamlet – one of the most difficult problems in the First Folio: probably typeset from some combination of Q2 and manuscript sources.
33 King Lear – a difficult problem: probably set mainly from Q1 but with reference to Q2, and corrected against a prompt-book.
34 Othello – another difficult problem: probably typeset from Q1, corrected with a quality manuscript.
35 Antony and Cleopatra * – possibly “foul papers” or a transcript of them.
36 Cymbeline * – possibly another Ralph Crane transcript, or else the official prompt-book.
Troilus and Cressida was originally intended to follow Romeo and Juliet, but the typesetting was stopped, probably due to a conflict over the rights to the play; it was later inserted as the first of the Tragedies, when the rights question was resolved. It does not appear in the table of contents.