April 23, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Commemorations will take place the world over, with one of the more ambitious, and rare, occurring across the United States.  A year-long traveling exhibition, coordinated by the Folger Shakespeare Library, in partnership with the American Library Association and Cincinnati Museum Center, began on January 4, 2016 and will conclude January 2, 2017. Locations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico will host the exhibit.

The exhibit features one of the most famous books in the world – The First Folio of Shakespeare.  Published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the First Folio was compiled by fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell and contains the first collected edition of William Shakespeare’s 36 plays. The importance of this should not be overlooked, for upon his death in 1616, only about half of Shakespeare’s plays had been published. Another 18 are known today because of his colleague’s efforts.

Folios are large books, created by folding printed sheets in half to create two doubled-sided leaves, or four pages per sheet. Usually reserved for important matters- Bibles, history, and science – folios typically did not include something as “common” as plays. The First Folio also includes a title-page portrait engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout, considered one of only two authentic likenesses. Approved by those who knew him, the other is the bust from his memorial in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Without the contributions of Henry Clay Folger, Jr. and his wife Emily Jordan Folger, the Folger Shakespeare Library would not be in existence. The Chairman of Standard Oil Company, Henry and Emily shared a deep passion for the works of William Shakespeare and spent decades gathering what has become the world’s largest holding of known First Folio copies. Plans for the library to house the collection began in 1918, with public disclosure made in 1928 after the land was acquired on Capitol Hill. Due to losses in the 1929 stock market crash, Emily Folger donated millions of her own funds for the completion and operation of the library. Sadly, the untimely death of Henry Folger in 1930 did not let him witness its opening in April 1932. Amherst College bestowed upon Emily an honorary doctorate in 1932 for her efforts in making the library a reality.

C. Forbes, Inc. is proud to have been selected to collaborate on the design and production of a custom, commemorative lapel pin in recognition of this milestone 400th anniversary. Available at the Folger Library store, the two-color, satin nickel pin is based on a design and “The Wonder of Will” theme provided by Folger Library.

Fun Facts About the First Folio

The First Folio was printed in the London printing shop of William Jaggard, and published by a syndicate headed by Edward Blount and Jaggard’s son, Isaac.

Approximately 750 copies were initially printed in 1623, of which 233 are known today. A second edition, the 1632 Second Folio, was produced based on successful sales of the first.

The First Folio contains 900 pages, each approximately 12 inches tall.

All copies of the First Folio are not the same. The First Folio was proofread as it was printed, creating small variations. Some copies acquired notes and drawings; others were damaged and contain missing pages. Page sizes may also vary, since edges were trimmed for rebinding.

Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were published for the first time in the First Folio: All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VIII, Julius Caesar, King John, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, Timon of Athens, Twelfth Night, Two Gentleman of Verona, and The Winter’s Tale.

Ownership of the First Folio is compelling to historians and technology wizards alike. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen paid more than $6 million for a “perfect” First Folio in 2001.

“To be or not to be: that is the question.”; “All that glitters is not gold.”; “To thine own self be true.” Words written over 400 years ago, still quoted and reflected upon today. Could William Shakespeare have ever imagined the impact his plays would have upon the world? As Emily Folger wrote of her husband’s belief, “the poet is one of our best sources, one of the wells from which Americans draw our national thought, our faith and our hope.”

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