manu deus

Comedies, Histories and Tragedies

Shakespeare, William

(London, 1685)

4th folio, 1st issue, of Shakespeare’s complete plays, the paramount work in all of English literature. Fine 19th century full blind–tooled morocco, gilt titled, gilt edges, satisfying condition by any standard, with no repair, a nicely executed, beautiful and distinctive antique, but here’s your scrupulously dissected examination: Portrait and title page lightly foxed, minor chips and short tears to some blank margins (and only the blank margins), a dozen tiny pin holes (mostly rust), stains to 25 or so pages, Ccc6 with the margin slightly miscut by 1/16” at 2 corners (imaginably supplied from another genuine copy, but not discernable by any physical evidence), a paper flaw just under the upper rule of Ii2, but don’t be distracted. This is (withal) a complete and perfect folio, tall (14 1/16”), wide (8 15/16“), and read the next sentence with attention, because you won’t read it often. Far beyond the usual, every single page, and every single letter of text is present and valid, with no facsimile, and (even more remarkably) no (zero) leaves have been remargined or extended. The provenance is soothing. Ex–Elizabeth Young, the initial owner, with her ink signature to the title page, a few letters rusted and above the signature there are 2 accompanying stains. Ex–Thomas Jefferson McKee (bookplate) sold at his auction (Anderson’s, NY, April 30, 1901, lot 2602), and the McKee sale was a spectacular one, featuring rarities that have become impossibilities (for example, he had 529 English quarto plays printed before 1700). And that connects this folio to a strictly applied quality standard that was high 110 years ago, being once a part of the greatest American library auctioned up until that time.


Collation: O2, A4, A-Y6, Z4, BB-ZZ6, *AAA-DDD6, EEE8, AAA-ZZZ6, AAAA-BBBB6, CCCC2, 458 leaves with the usual mispaginations.

References: Wing S 2915. Greg III 1119. Bartlett 123. Pforzheimer 910. Jaggard 497.

A panorama of life, filled with enough heroes for those who favor them, and enough villains for those of the opposite bias. Sad 4th folios are always available, their common element being descriptions leaking unwarranted praise, and dismissing serious deficiencies as trifles, and we try not to buy them or sell them. This one is from the legendary library of a great collector, who certainly knew what he was doing. Just the fact that it’s complete, with no facsimile, sets it above most other copies, and the natural state of each and every margin sets it apart from the rest. Here is a chance to buy a Shakespeare that was judged to be in superior condition a century ago, and at a price today, that’s less than its inferiors.

Dragging out the old mantra, one more time, for one last chant, nobody is offering a finer copy at our price, and nobody is offering an equal copy for less.