THE SOURCE: “What Is a Rare Book?” by Fred C. Robinson, in The Sewanee Review, Fall 2012.
In 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare died, two of his friends and fellow actors collected 36 of his plays, half of them never before published, thereby wresting such titles as Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest from oblivion. An original copy of this collection of the Bard’s work, known as the First Folio, now has an asking price of nearly $5 million. It is considered a rare book, writes Fred C. Robinson, a librarian of Yale’s Elizabethan Club collection of rare books, yet copies are not scarce: 230 are known to exist today. But as is the case for the Gutenberg Bible, printed in the 15th century and now surviving in 47 copies, the First Folio’s “desirability far exceeds its availability.”
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