We call the collected plays of Shakespeare by the rather generic title, First Folio, because it doesn't really have a title. “Folio” refers to the size of the paper, one large sheet folded in half, and “First,” of course, simply means it is the first of the collections (there is a Second, Third, and Fourth folio of Shakespeare's work). But throughout the world, the name First Folio is recognized as referring to the first edition of this particular and significant book.
Regardless of its title (or lack of one), the book has become one of the most important publications in the world—and one of the most expensive relative to how many copies exist. At the time of its printing in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the book is assumed to have sold for about one pound, approximately $500 today; one would typically buy the loose pages from the printer and take them to a binder to have bound. Today the book is valued at a minimum of $6 million dollars.
Henry and Emily Folger, who met at a Shakespeare reading group, began collecting these folio editions in 1889 and eventually amassed the largest collection of copies in the world, now housed in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. We assume that about 750 copies were originally printed; today there are 233 known copies. The Folger Library holds 82 of these.
In February 2016, Santa Fe celebrated this book of Shakespeare’s and its unprecedented arrival in our town with community events of all sorts. We now look forward to continuing the momentum of Shakespeare appreciation in our town!