I love my Shakespeare, but this is over the top

Just finished reading a book about Rockefeller associate and eventual Standard Oil Chairman Henry Clay Folger.

Whilst a lot of other industrial tycoons were putting their money into building giant palaces in New York City, or otherwise showing off their wealth in other ostentatious ways (Veblen’s phrase ‘conspicuous consumption’ was inspired by that era), Folger and his wife had a different interest in how they spent their wealth. They bought rare early copies of Shakespeare plays, particularly the First Folio and various of the early Quattro editions of some of the plays.

Until late in life, when he endowed the Folger Shakespeare Library, he kept his collection in crates in warehouses in New York.

When you look at that time, from around 1890 to 1920, when Folger was collecting so intensely, paying $100,000 for a particular rare book is rather impressive, and Folger ended up spending millions on rare Shakespeare editions.

For those who are not that knowledgable about Shakespeare, the First Folio, which was printed by his friends in the 1620s as a posthumous memorial to the Bard and which contains almost all of his acknowledged plays (except for Pericles) is the main reason that the works of Shakespeare have survived instead of mostly being forgotten.

Folger appreciated that, and in the course of his life he collected 82 copies of the First Folio, approximately 40% of the surviving number of those books.

They are now held in the library he endowed, in Washington DC.

I have a lot of books on Shakespeare, particularly as I find the Authorship question both amusing and fascinating, and three hard back copies of the Collected Works, as well as an RSC edition of the apocryphal plays, and various paperback editions of the plays for when I feel like reading them. However, Folger’s obsession with collecting the rare works makes my interest in Shakespeare seem quite mundane in comparison.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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