1st edition of Shakespeare’s First Folio gifted to University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia has obtained a first edition of William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, and promised to provide “unprecedented” public access to the extremely rare and highly sought-after book.

The 1623 publication, also known as the First Folio, was released by Shakespeare’s colleagues seven years after his death. It contains 36 of the Bard’s 38 known plays, half of which had never previously appeared in print, including The Tempest and Twelfth Night.

In a release from the university, Katherine Kalsbeek, head of rare books and special collections at UBC Library, called the First Folio “a cornerstone of English literature.”

“With this donation, we are able to bring this cultural treasure into public ownership,” Kalsbeek said. “This is really a gift, not just to UBC, but also to the city of Vancouver and to the many people in the region who appreciate Shakespeare.”

The book was purchased at auction through Christie’s New York, with funding provided by a “consortium of donors from across North America” and the Department of Canadian Heritage, the university said.

A UBC spokesperson told CTV News the purchase price could not be disclosed, as part of the terms of sale. Another first edition was auctioned for nearly $10 million in 2020.

The university said the acquisition of the First Folio came with a “mandate to ensure public access,” which will be offered in a number of ways. The publication will be exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery until March 22, along with three subsequent editions of the book, and the UBC department of theatre and film will also be working on “augmented and virtual reality projects” for public consumption.

Those projects will “amplify the value of one of the world’s most precious cultural treasures and make the wonder of Shakespeare accessible to everyone,” the university said.

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