London: Printed for H. Herringman, E. Brewster, and R. Bentley, at the Anchor in the New Exchange, The Crane in St. Paul's Church-Yard, and in Russel-Street Covent-Garden, London. 1685. Full morocco. 4th folio, 1st issue of Shakespeare’s plays, the heart of English literature. 19th century full black morocco, fine condition and unrestored, beautiful beyond good fortune and with all of the visual satisfaction so prized by the parts of us that are superficial, a particularly appropriate and resonant antique. That said, these folios should be valued from the inside out and that is where this one’s merits excel. Flaws first: The portrait has some light foxing (mostly at the margins), the title page and 5% of the text pages have intermittent stains, there are a few small chips and tears at the edges (all of them confined to the blank margins), some of them closed, and some of them left alone, tiny rust holes of no impact, and half a dozen margins are very slightly miscut, but don’t be deceived by my fussy attention to details. This book is complete and authentic, every letter of text is genuine, and better still (remarkably so), no leaves are remargined or extended, and other Shakespeare folios, offered over many years, cannot, honestly, make these claims, including those offered these days for more money. A 336–year old ideal, tall and wide, an exemplary and glorious copy of what continues to prevail as the book of books. Ex–Elizabeth Young, the initial owner, with her ink signature to the title page. Ex–Thomas Jefferson McKee (bookplate) sold at his auction (Anderson’s, NY, April 29–30, 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). So, this folio is of a quality standard that was high 120 years ago, and it was once 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: Greg III 1119. Pforzheimer 910. Bartlett 123. Wing S 2915. Jaggard 497. Near fine. Item #4
We’ve been selling these heirlooms since 1980, and look at 10 for every 1 we buy, and the folios available these days are offered with descriptions that harken real estate advertising jargon. Average copies, presented with unwarranted praise, and covered in worn, repaired or rebacked bindings, or worse yet, new bindings, with their veneer of glitter, like some farm girl sculpted from marzipan, may sell near our price when made lifelike by morticians in the guise of conservators, and may sell for even less when lost text or pages have been replaced in facsimile. But you can’t make a wit out of 2 halfwits, and a chicken sent traveling does not come back an eagle, so if you want a stalwart folio, that will bring lasting pride of ownership in the most urbane and cultivated of libraries, this is it. Better copies are unavailable and here are 2 timeless realities about Shakespeare folios in this condition. Unequivocal immortality is a given, and on those unpredictable occasions when copies like this one are offered for sale, the zaniest inversion of inevitability, is to fantasize that the next one will be finer and cheaper.