The millionaire and the bard Henry Folger's obsessive hunt for Shakespeare's first folio

Andrea E. Mays

Book - 2015

"Today it is the most valuable book in the world. Recently one sold for over five million dollars. It is the book that rescued the name of William Shakespeare and half of his plays from oblivion. The Millionaire and the Bard tells the miraculous and romantic story of the making of the First Folio, and of the American industrialist whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession." --

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Subjects
Published
New York : Simon & Schuster 2015.
Edition
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xvi, 350 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 293-316) and index.
ISBN
9781439118238
143911823X
9781439118252
1439118256
Main Author
Andrea E. Mays (author)
  • Prologue
  • The Good [That Men Do] Is Oft Interred with Their Bones
  • Adieu...Remember Me
  • Whatever You Do, Buy
  • My Shakespeare, Rise
  • Had I the Money, You Would Come...
  • Had I the Means, I would not Hesitate to Buy
  • The Most Precious Book in the World
  • A Shakespeare Discovery
  • Do... Devise Some Way to Get the Books
  • The False Folio
  • I Am an American
  • Portrait of a Collector
  • Thou Art a Moniment, Without a Tombe
  • It is the Key of our Hearts
  • Epilogue.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* For half-a-century, Henry Folger was near and, later, at the top of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil empire. Yet he and his wife, Emily, rented in Brooklyn until he retired. Despite their wealth (nothing like Rockefeller's, but . . . ), they were unostentatious, Henry especially loathing all publicity. They took their annual voyage to England on a "slow boat" skippered by a friend who shared their passion for Shakespeare. They expended their resources on collecting Shakespeariana, especially copies of the earliest official edition of the plays, the First Folio of 1623. By the time ground was broken for Washington, D.C.'s famed Folger Shakespeare Library, their collection was so large that to this day it hasn't been completely cataloged. Mays' chronicling of the amassment of that library focuses on Henry far more than Emily as he stalks and bags copy after copy of the First Folio as well as a few even more valuable Shakespearean volumes, such as the first collection of the plays made by binding together the paperback quartos of individual plays (only two copies of this edition are extant). Though its cast consists of people one might ordinarily consider gray and tedious—bookdealers, scholars, antiquarians—Mays' first book is utterly enthralling thanks to her deep sympathy with the Folgers and her fascinated, unstuffy prose. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Similar to Stephen H. Grant's Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger, Mays's (economics, California State Univ., Long Beach) book focuses specifically on the story of Henry Folger's first acquisition of a major Shakespeare collection and uses it as the point of departure for what becomes an obsession—Folger's quest to own as many copies as he could of William Shakespeare's First Folio. While the story of the making of the first edition of collected works by the bard's fellow shareholders John Heminges and Henry Condell and the tale of how close Shakespeare's plays came to being lost altogether is fascinating, it is especially illuminating to see such an unprecedented project anatomized so minutely. With many people still speculating about the eventual disappearance of all books, this voyage back to within 125 years of the dawn of printing history seems especially poignant—as we no longer need persuading that tomes are precious and have never been so aware of their ephemerality. VERDICT Recommended for all book lovers, Shakespeare fans, and anyone interested in America's Gilded Age. [See Prepub Alert, 11/24/14.]—Jenny Brewer, Helen Hall Lib., League City, TX [Page 84]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Economist Mays's debut is effortless in its unadorned storytelling and exacting in its research, recounting the lives of William Shakespeare and his most devoted collector, Henry Clay Folger (1857–1930). Shakespeare's First Folio, "the book of man on earth," is the most expensive book in the world, and for Folger, president and later chairman of Standard Oil of New York, the source of an obsession that extended beyond his life—the Folger Shakespeare Library opened two years after his death. Folger's untiring intellectual pursuit speaks to both the resounding importance of Shakespeare's work and the mores of Folger's Gilded Age era, which prized the ambition that led Americans to become self-made millionaires. The book is evocative in its characterizations of both the deified bard and dedicated bibliophile, finding its structure in the parallels between these two ambitious yet mysterious men. While the details of Folger's travails to find the First Folio can sometimes weigh heavily on the long narrative, the page-turning detective story—winding through dusty library shelves and behind the closed doors of antiquarian trading—speaks to anyone with a love of literary history. Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (May) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Documents the making of the First Folio, relating how a few years after a virtually unknown Shakespeare died, his former partners, friends, and actors gathered his surviving manuscripts.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Documents the romantic story of the making of the First Folio, relating how a few years after a virtually unknown Shakespeare died, his former partners, friends and actors gathered his surviving manuscripts, unaware that they would create one of the most important English-language books ever published.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Today it is the most valuable book in the world. Recently one sold for over five million dollars. It is the book that rescued the name of William Shakespeare and half of his plays from oblivion. The Millionaire and the Bard tells the miraculous and romantic story of the making of the First Folio, and of the American industrialist whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession.When Shakespeare died in 1616 half of his plays died with him. No one'not even their author'believed that his writings would last, that he was a genius, or that future generations would celebrate him as the greatest author in the history of the English language. By the time of his death his plays were rarely performed, eighteen of them had never been published, and the rest existed only in bastardized forms that did not stay true to his original language.Seven years later, in 1623, Shakespeare's business partners, companions, and fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, gathered copies of the plays and manuscripts, edited and published thirty-six of them. This massive book, the First Folio, was intended as a memorial to their deceased friend. They could not have known that it would become one of the most important books ever published in the English language, nor that it would become a fetish object for collectors. The Millionaire and the Bard is a literary detective story, the tale of two mysterious men'a brilliant author and his obsessive collector'separated by space and time. It is a tale of two cities'Elizabethan and Jacobean London and Gilded Age New York. It is a chronicle of two worlds'of art and commerce'that unfolded an ocean and three centuries apart. And it is the thrilling tale of the luminous book that saved the name of William Shakespeare 'to the last syllable of recorded time.'