‘Where are they? Gone?’
Macbeth, IV i
Henry and Emily Folger were the most famous and successful First Folio ‘hunters’ and collectors of all time. They bought 82 copies between 1893 and 1928, and then built a library in Washington D.C. to house them together with the world’s largest collection of ‘Shakespeareana’. It was opened to the public on 23rd April 1932. In 2020, The Folger Shakespeare Library embarked on a $50 million renovation project, ‘The Wonder of Will’, which includes a new pavilion, and much greater access to its collections. The project will complete in 2023 and make the Folger even fitter for purpose for the next 100 years.
New York Public Library has six First Folios, The Huntington Library in California has four, with most of the balance in the North-eastern states.
Isle of Bute
15 First Folios still call London their home, including five at the British Library. The one housed at The Guildhall is closest to its ‘birthplace’ at Jaggard’s print house. The Munro First Folio on permanent display at Shakespeare’s Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on Bankside, the reconstructed theatres for which the plays were written.
There are three First Folios in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s place of birth (and death) and home to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Oxford and Cambridge universities each have four in their libraries. At least four aristocratic families still have First Folios in their private libraries, including the King.
Dr. Mitsuo Kodama, the late President of Meisei University, Japan, acquired 12 First Folios between 1975 and 1993, mostly through the book-dealer Mitsuo Nitta of the Yushodo Company. Meisei University still have 10 First Folios. There are three other copies in Japan and three scattered across the southern hemisphere. Several cities in Europe house First Folios, but only one, Padua, is also the setting of a First Folio play (The Taming of the Shrew). Copies in New Zealand and South Africa are witness to British colonial rule.
If about 750 copies were originally printed in 1623, then a total of about 524 copies of the First Folio are temporarily ‘missing’ or have been lost forever. Fire, neglect, damp, decay and even shipwrecks have all have taken copies over the last 400 years. ‘Vampment’ or ‘Sophistication’, the process of making ‘perfect’ copies out of partial ones, has also taken its toll. Of the 235 copies known to have survived to 1824 and beyond, nine have gone missing. Some of those may re-surface and more copies (like the Shuckburgh and the St. Omer) never previously recorded in the censuses, will be found. Read Professor Rasmussen discuss this in Folio-phernalia.