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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: July ::
Stolen Durham First Folio Recovered
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0392  Saturday, 12 July 2008

From:       Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:       Saturday, July 12, 2008
Subject:    Stolen Durham First Folio Recovered

There are currently more than three hundred news stories at Google News about 
the recovery of the First Folio that was stolen from Durham University ten years 
ago. One of the best, most complete versions, I have read is the one that 
appeared in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/11/AR2008071101697.html?sid=ST2008071102300&pos=

Missing Shakespeare Knocks on Folger's Door
English Book Dealer Arrested in Theft
By David Montgomery and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 12, 2008; A01

The man dressed a little flashy for a rare-book guy. British accent. He picked 
Monday, June 16, to go to the library -- the Folger Shakespeare Library on 
Capitol Hill. No warning, no appointment. Out of his bag, he pulled an old book. 
Flimsy, no binding, big pages. Said he wanted the Folger book detectives to 
check it out.

Could it be genuine 400-year-old Shakespeare? he wondered.

Funny he should ask.

So begins the final chapter of the antiquarian police procedural that ended 
yesterday across the ocean in Durham, England, with the arrest of a 51-year-old 
book dealer in the theft 10 years ago of a volume of Shakespeare's collected 
plays, published in 1623 and worth about $2.5 million, as appraised by the Folger.

The copy of the famous First Folio -- cited by scholars as perhaps the most 
important printed edition in the English language -- had been lifted from Durham 
University in northeast England.

The Folger's sleuthing determined that the old book was genuine all right -- and 
as hot as a pawned diamond tiara.

Shakespeare fans and rare-book lovers on both sides of the pond hailed the break 
in the case. Students of human behavior could only scratch their heads.

Why would someone bring a stolen Shakespeare to the place where the theft was 
most likely to be detected? Folger has the largest collection of printed 
Shakespeare, including 79 of the 230 First Folios known to exist.

Did he not know it was stolen? Was he trying to get the Folger people to 
authenticate it so he could sell it here, not knowing that everyone in 
Shakespeare world was on the lookout for the notorious "missing Durham First Folio"?

If the FBI or British police know the answers, they weren't saying. By late 
yesterday Durham time, police had not released the name of the suspect. It could 
not be verified immediately that he was the same man who visited the Folger with 
the missing Shakespeare.

"It's come back after all this time, and there is an interesting tale to it," 
said Charlie Westberg, a spokesman for the Durham Constabulary.

"That is what will make this a great movie one day," said Garland Scott, head of 
external relations for the Folger library.

The reason the First Folio is so cherished is that without it, "we wouldn't have 
about half of Shakespeare's plays," said Maynard Mack Jr., an English professor 
and a Shakespeare expert at the University of Maryland.

[ . . . ]

The loss of any single example of the First Folio is not the same as losing a 
masterpiece painting. Yet in subtle ways, each First Folio is unique, and 
scholars can trace the production of the volume by those differences.

"That is why recovering the Durham one is so important," Mack said.

And that is also how the alleged thief was caught.

When the mysterious man arrived at the Folger last month, he had a story to go 
with his book: He said the work was from a family library in Cuba, and he was 
representing the family.

[ . . . ]

Librarian Richard Kuhta met the man and examined the book. "It's clear to 
Richard immediately that this is something important," Scott said.

Kuhta asked the man if the library could keep the volume for further study, and 
the man agreed to leave it for two days. "Alarm bells" were going off in the 
minds of the library's staff, Scott said. "It's the first time a genuine First 
Folio has walked into our doors unannounced."

When the man returned, Kuhta was able to tell him that the book was an authentic 
First Folio. But Kuhta and the Folger staff still wanted to determine which of 
the 230 extant First Folios it was. A few of the opening pages of the version 
presented to the Folger had been removed. They would have contained obvious 
markings tied to the Durham First Folio.

But each First Folio can be identified by other marks and printing idiosyncrasies.

The library staff wanted to consult an outside expert, Stephen Massey. The 
mysterious man agreed to let the library keep the book for Massey's inspection, 
which did not take place until June 26. By the next day, Massey and the Folger 
staff had reached a conclusion: In their hands was the missing Durham First Folio.

The Folger called the FBI and gave officials the man's name and contact 
information. The British Embassy in Washington alerted the Durham police.

The suspect was arrested Thursday on suspicion of theft, and he was still being 
questioned late yesterday, Durham time.

The man lives in a modest brick two-bedroom house in a working-class 
neighborhood of Washington, England -- the ancestral town of George Washington's 
family, about a 15-minute drive from the university where the folio was stolen.

According to police, there was a silver Ferrari in his driveway and Armani suits 
in the closets. The man lived there with his mother, who is in her 80s. The home 
was crammed with antique books. The mother -- who told police that her son "buys 
and sells books" -- had been moved out by police who were searching the home 
yesterday. Besides the First Folio, several other rare works were stolen in the 
same 1998 heist.

[ . . . ]

Jordan reported from London. Staff researcher Robert E. Thomason contributed to 
this report.
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