Rare Shakespeare First Folio discovered in French library

Shakespeare First Folio
A Shakespeare First Folio in the Saint-Omer library in France, where it has just been discovered.
(Michel Spingler / Associated Press)

A literature scholar has discovered a William Shakespeare First Folio, one of the rarest and most valuable books in the world, at a library in a small French town, the Guardian reports. The book, printed in 1623, had been in the collection of the Saint-Omer library for two centuries, but was incorrectly cataloged for years.

Librarian and scholar Remy Cordonnier found the book while preparing an exhibition of Anglo-Saxon writers for the library. “I didn’t instantly recognize it as a book of value. It had been heavily used and was damaged,” he said. “It had seen better days.” Several pages from the folio, including the title page, are missing.

The Saint-Omer copy of the book was probably brought to France by Jesuit priests and taken from the order by the town during or after the French Revolution during the country’s period of de-Christianization.

The First Folio, which collects 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, was the first edition of the writer’s collected works. Printed seven years after his death, it marked the beginning of his legacy as a master and is one of the most famous books in history.


Seven hundred fifty copies of the book were printed, and about 230 are still around today. Copies have sold at auction for millions of dollars. In 2010, a British antique dealer was convicted of “handling stolen goods” after he kept a copy of the folio in his home for years, apparently hoping to sell it. That edition had been stolen in 1998 from Durham University.

In Southern California, a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio is on permanent display at the Huntington Library.

The newly discovered folio won’t be publicly displayed and there are no plans to put it up for sale. The Saint-Omer library, which also owns a rare Gutenberg Bible, will scan the book and post it on their website, however [link in French].

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