The precious First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays

Lord Brotherton of Wakefield (1856-1930) is the University of Leeds Libraries’ greatest benefactor. He was a chemical industrialist and philanthropist who acted as Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1913-1914.

During an intensive eight-year book collecting spree from 1922 until his death in 1930, he acquired all four seventeenth-century folios of Shakespeare’s plays, a feat sometimes called the “holy gail of book collecting”.

Lord Brotherton bought his copy of the First Folio in 1924 from a major American book dealer of the period, Gabriel Wells, who acquired it at the sale of the library of a New York businessman, Theodore Vail. It must have given the entrepreneurial Lord Brotherton great satisfaction to repatriate one of the most important and influential printed books in English literary history, Shakespeare’s First Folio, from New York to Yorkshire!

The first collected folio edition of the plays of William Shakespeare was published exactly 400 years ago in 1623, seven years after his death. It was compiled by his theatre colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell. Without this book, we would not have famous plays such as Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Comedy of Errors and many more.

You can view a digital copy of the First Folio here, along with more information on its history and acquisition:

Shakespeare first folio catalogue of plays
Shakespeare first folio catalogue of plays

Full title of item:
Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies. Published according to the true originall copies, London, 1623

Shelfmark: Brotherton Collection SHA

Catalogue record