Andrea Mays: The Millionaire and the Bard

Henry Clay Folger paid a world record price for a book—not once, but twice—as he became the world’s leading collector of Shakespeare First Folios.

In this episode from Shakespeare Unlimited, economist and author Andrea Mays talks with Neva Grant about some of the fascinating financial and personal details of Folger’s life, and in particular, how he went about collecting all these books. Folger, of course, did not limit himself to First Folios. He also, together with his wife Emily Jordan Folger, assembled the world’s largest Shakespeare collection—and founded the Folger Shakespeare Library. Mays’s book The Millionaire and the Bard was published earlier this year.

Today the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection of 82 First Folios represents a little more than a third of the world’s First Folios. (That group of First Folios will be the basis of a history-making traveling exhibition, First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, that will take the First Folio to all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, in 2016.)

Why collect the First Folio? More than half of Shakespeare’s plays might have been lost had they not been included in this first compilation of Shakespeare’s dramas, published in 1623, seven years after his death. Since the First Folio was proofed as it was being printed, errors and adjustments mean the pages vary slightly from copy to copy. These changes have told us much more about how books were printed in Shakespeare’s day.

In this interview, Mays talks about the Folgers’ passion for collecting Shakespeare, the allure of the First Folio, and the beginnings of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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