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Rare copy of Shakespeare's First Folio sells for record $10M

October 14, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13: William Shakespeare's First Folio on display prior to its auction in New York on January 13, 2020 at Christie's in London, England. The folio was published in 1623 by Shakespeare's friends John Hemmings and Henry Condell. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

A complete version of Shakespeare's First Folio, one of only five copies still in private hands, has become the most expensive work of literature ever to sell at auction.

A rare copy of Shakespeare's First Folio sold for almost $10 million Wednesday, becoming the most expensive work of literature ever to appear at auction, according to Christie's.

The collection of 36 plays, published shortly after the playwright's death, is one of only five complete copies still in private hands, the auction house said.

The version sold on Wednesday was the first complete copy to appear at auction since one went for $6. 1 million in 2001.

After a six-minute bidding battle between three telephone buyers, the item was purchased by book dealer and antiquarian Stephan Loewentheil for $9. 98 million.

In a phone interview following the sale, he described Shakespeare's original folios as the "holy grail of books. "

"(The First Folio) is the greatest work in the English language, certainly the greatest work of theater, so it's something that anyone who loves intellectualism has to consider a divine object," said Loewentheil, who owns stores specializing in rare books and photography in New York and Maryland.

In a press statement, head of books and manuscripts at Christie's, Margaret Ford, said it was "befitting" that Shakespeare's work now holds the auction world record "given its tremendous significance and influence around the globe. "

Of these, only 56 are considered to be complete, with almost all of them now held by institutions in the US and UK, according to Christie's, whose sale catalog said the item's "extraordinary rarity . . .

Commenting on the book's condition, Loewentheil -- who was able to inspect it in person, before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered auction houses around the world -- described it as having "integrity. "

A number of other items at Wednesday's sale sold for seven-figure sums -- including a Ming dynasty carpet that went under the hammer for over $1. 7 million -- providing further evidence that the top end of the auction market is weathering some the challenges posed by the pandemic.

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