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Rare Shakespeare ‘First Folio’ found on Scottish island

It’s now one of only 234 known copies in the world, hidden for more than 100 years in the library at Mount Stuart, a vast estate on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. The “First Folio” is 36 of William Shakespeare’s plays, collected and printed seven years after the Bard’s death in 1623. Without the bound collection many of Shakespeare’s most loved plays would have been lost, among them “The Tempest” and “Macbeth.”

The find was confirmed as genuine by Emma Smith, professor of Shakespeare studies at Oxford University. She told the BBC, “It’s a book we most likely now see … in a glass case, and one of the things that this copy … shows us is a time when people just really used this book, they enjoyed it, they scribbled on it, they spilt their wine on it, their pet cats jumped on it.”

What makes the Bute copy of the “First Folio” unusual is that it comes in three leather-bound volumes, divided by comedies, histories and tragedies. Most of the other known copies are all-in-one.

An inscription in the Bute copy of Shakespeare's First Folio shows it was owned by a well-known literary editor in the 18th century. Image by Russell Cheyne / REUTERS

An inscription in the Bute copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio shows it was owned by a well-known literary editor in the 18th century. Image by Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Inside the first page is an inscription from an 18th century editor of Shakespeare named Isaac Reed, describing how he acquired the book in 1786. It was sold after his death in 1807 for £38 and it didn’t turn up in a census of First Folios in 1906 but it was included in a catalogue of the Bute library in 1896.

Children look at one of the three leather-bound volumes of Shakespeare's First Folio, discovered nearly 400 years after his death. Image by Russell Cheyne / REUTERS

Children look at one of the three leather-bound volumes of Shakespeare’s First Folio, discovered nearly 400 years after his death. Image by Russell Cheyne/Reuters

The Head of Collections at Mount Stuart, Alice Martin, said this is “just the tip of the iceberg for the undiscovered material in the remarkable Bute Collection, and we are working with scholars from universities including Glasgow, Dundee, Stirling and Oxford to share our collections with schoolchildren in Scotland and with the public.”

It’s on display to the public at Mount Stuart through October of this year. Britain is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this year.

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