Conservation United Kingdom

Bard’s burgled book to be conserved

Conservators to repair damage done to Shakespeare First Folio during the ten years it went missing

Chief constable John Stoddard, Sheila Hingley and Chris Higgins from Durham University celebrate the return of the rare 17th-century folio

DURHAM. Conservators at Durham University are preparing to undo damage sustained by a rare folio of William Shake­speare’s plays that was stolen from the university’s library in 1998. The folio was recovered in 2008 and returned in July 2010 at the end of the trial of the former antiques dealer Raymond Scott. The folio is now valued at £1.5m—which is £1.5m less than before its theft. Treatment will begin next month after its removal from the show, “Treasures of Durham University” (until 6 March).

“This book is clearly one of the most important in the English language,” said the university’s chancellor Bill Bryson, while Sheila Hingley, the university’s head of heritage collections, considers it to be “the cornerstone of English literature”. The First Folio, which contains 36 of the Bard’s plays, was published by 1623 and purchased by the former Bishop of Durham, John Cosin, before 1644. Around 230 of the 750 folios published in 1623 remain and Durham’s copy is the only one known to have remained in the same collection since its purchase.

According to the university’s senior conservator Liz Branigan, the folio was in “very good condition with no requirement for treatment” prior to its theft. There had been “little interference with the text with all but one of its pages still intact,” said Branigan, adding that many other first folio copies contain facsimiles of pages lost during the rebinding process.

“The book was in very poor condition when it was returned to us,” said Branigan. The first and last pages are missing (probably removed because their markings could be traced to the university) and the first three and last seven pages are detached from the textblock. She also spoke of damage to the edges of some pages. “The first priority is to repair the edges of the damaged pages and reattach them to each other…in preparation for resewing them onto new chords,” said Branigan, who added that lightweight Japanese paper and wheat starch paste will be used to repair the pages. The folio will be rebound in dark blue goatskin.

Scott brought the folio to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC in 2008, claiming to have discovered the book in Cuba and requesting a valuation. Staff became suspicious and contacted the authorities. Although Scott was acquitted of stealing the folio, he was convicted of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from the UK and sentenced to eight years in prison.

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