A rare 1623 book that brought together William Shakespeare’s plays for the first time sold for a record $9.97 million at auction on Wednesday, Christie’s in New York said.
The First Folio containing 36 of Shakespeare’s plays is one of only six known complete copies in private hands and had carried a pre-sale estimate of $4 million to $6 million.
The identity of the buyer was not immediately known.
Wednesday’s auction price also marked a new world auction record for any printed work of literature, and smashed the previous high of $6.16 million for a Shakespeare First Folio that was set in 2001, Christie’s said.
“Comedies, Histories and Tragedies” was compiled by friends of the English playwright and poet seven years after his death. It includes 18 plays that had never been published before and might have been lost, including “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar.”
The book was put up for auction by Mills College, a private liberal arts college in Oakland, California.
The First Folio marked the first time that Shakespeare’s plays had been organized as comedies, tragedies and histories. The book’s large size – previously reserved for law books and works of theology – helped raise Shakespeare’s status in future years, Christie’s books experts said.
Without the First Folio some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines would likely have been lost, including classics like “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,” from “Julius Caesar,” and “If music be the food of love, play on,” from “Twelfth Night.”
Wednesday’s sale was the first time in nearly 20 years that a complete copy of the First Folio had come to auction.
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