Extremely Rare Shakespeare First Folio Discovered

First Folio
A 1623 copy of the calf-bound First Folio edition of William Shakespeare's plays is displayed at Sotheby's auction house in central London Dylan Martinez/REUTERS

An extremely rare Shakespeare First Folio likely worth millions has been found in a library in Saint-Omer in the north of France. It was first discovered in September when Rémy Cordonnier, the librarian and a medieval literature expert, came across it by accident. The book has now been formally identified by Shakespeare expert professor Eric Rasmussen from the University of Nevada.

"It had been wrongly identified in our catalogue as a book of Shakespeare plays most likely dating from the 18th century," Cordonnier explained yesterday. "I didn't instantly recognise it as a book of value. It had been heavily used and was damaged. It had seen better days."

"This is a very important discovery which all Shakespeareans will be celebrating," professor Stuart Hampton-Reeves who has edited several books about Shakespeare told Newsweek. "Less than a third of the original print run has survived into modern times and each one is treasured by the libraries and collectors who possess them."

Shakespeare scholar and honorary president of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stanley Wells told Newsweek that there may be more Folios waiting to be discovered. "It was in a big library and I believe it was misidentified - if the librarian is not a Shakespearean expert this could easily happen. There could certainly be others in the world we haven't heard of."

"Unlike with modern books, these Folio's were done by hand press and the printers would often stop half way to proof read it and then would make changes so, in theory, every copy could have different words or readings of words in them," Wells explained.

"Another reason why a new copy could have particular value is that there might be early annotations in it. Indeed, I've heard that in this new find notes have been made on the play of Henry IV which suggests it was used for a theatrical performance."

Wells said that Eric Rasmussen, had done extensive research into Shakespeare's First Folio's and so was in a good position to verify that the book was an original.

There are around 230 First Folio's known to be in existence - some are in private homes while others are owned by libraries or public institutions. In 2006 a volume was bought for £2.8 million by rare book dealer Simon Finch at auction, and in 2003 multi-millionaire Sir John Paul Getty bought an edition from Oriel College, Oxford for £3.5 million, just six weeks before he died.