Folger copy 54: The First Folio as family scrapbook

The First Folio in California
Folger copy 54 of the First Folio in San Diego during the First Folio national tour. Photo by Stacy Keck.

Folger copy 54 of the First Folio, which traveled to Hawaii and California during the First Folio national tour in 2016, passed through the hands of many generations of one family for over 250 years before Henry Folger bought it in 1913.

One of its nineteenth-century owners, Captain Charles Hutchinson, clearly valued the book as a reflection on his family’s place in English history. Not only did he restore it, but he also treated it as a scrapbook of sorts, working in details and documents related to his family history.

He believed his ancestors Colonel John Hutchinson and Lucy Hutchinson, who lived at their English estate of Owthorpe during the seventeenth century, to have once owned the First Folio that had come to him in an inherited collection of books and Lucy Hutchinson’s manuscripts, stored in a very large chest.

Lucy and John Hutchinson
John Souch. Portraits at the National Army Museum, said to be of Colonel John Hutchinson (1615-1664) and Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681).

Colonel Hutchinson and his wife were staunch defenders of the Parliamentarian cause, and the colonel was one of the people who signed the death warrant for King Charles I. He was arrested and died in prison after the Restoration.

Lucy Hutchinson became famous for her civil-war “Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson,” which was edited for print for the first time by Captain Hutchinson’s father (from one of the manuscripts found in the chest) and became an important source for English civil-war history. The captain hinted at Lucy Hutchinson’s status as an author in a colorful anecdote about how her manuscript for the “Memoirs” was saved by his father from being used to scrub out a fire grate by a serving girl.

Captain Hutchinson was convinced that because the First Folio was once owned by Lucy and John Hutchinson, it would have “such interest as would, in the estimation of many, make it of more value, than many a fairer Copy.” So he restored the book, and he bound into it his handwritten family history.

First page of Hutchinson family history bound into the First Folio
This is part of the first page of the Hutchinson family history bound into the First Folio. Folger Shakespeare Library.

In addition to repairing damaged pages and replacing missing ones, the captain also made his own peculiar additions. In a handwritten note, he says that he “appended” Dr. Johnson’s preface to his edition, as well as a biography of Shakespeare, and copies of several of Shakespeare’s source plays.

If that wasn’t enough, he also “attached” two engravings. One was an image of the death warrant for Charles I, including Colonel Hutchinson’s signature. The other was a view of the Pantheon of Paris, dedicated at the time of the French Revolution to history’s “Great men,” with their names inscribed on various columns. Shakespeare’s name had pride of place on the English column.

It was not unusual for people to add illustrations to volumes of Shakespeare in nineteenth-century copies. Generally speaking, those are illustrations of scenes and characters from the plays, whereas Captain Hutchinson’s extra-illustration had a genealogical bent.

It remains a mystery how all of these pieces could have been “attached” to the First Folio since they had been removed before Henry Folger bought the volume from Captain Hutchinson’s son. There is no remaining trace of inner pockets, for instance, or suggestion of a custom box. But the binding Captain Hutchinson provided does remain.

It’s distinctive because, while most copies of the First Folio that were rebound in the nineteenth century have costly and elaborate bindings, Hutchinson’s calfskin binding was instead very simple. It is not clear if he meant to replicate a seventeenth-century style, or if he was doing the best he could within a budget and the abilities of his binder.

There is no clear-cut evidence in the book itself that Colonel Hutchinson and Lucy Hutchinson were the original family members to own the First Folio. There are signatures of several other family members from the seventeenth century, together with notes on scene locations and cast lists. In signing the book and lovingly restoring it, Captain Hutchinson left no doubt that he valued this book as a special witness to his family’s place in English history and that he considered it his responsibility to preserve and enhance it.

⇒ Read more about this First Folio on The Collation blog: Folger copy 54: From family library to research library