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Dispersal of Shakespeare Folios

 


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0428  Tuesday, 3 September 2013

 

From:        Al Magary < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         September 2, 2013 6:55:13 PM EDT

Subject:     Dispersal of Shakespeare Folios

 

Germaine Warkentin wrote on FICINO: Renaissance and Reformation Studies and then reposted the message below from SHARP-L:

 

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From Simon Eliot, a most informative letter. Simon is Chair in the History of the Book, and Deputy Director, Centre for Manuscript and Print Studies at ULondon's Institute of English Studies. Germaine

 

From Simon Eliot, a most informative letter. Simon is Chair in the History of the Book, and Deputy Director, Centre for Manuscript and Print Studies at ULondon's Institute of English Studies. Germaine

Jason Scott-Warren has copied Henry Woudhuysen’s excellent letter to SHARP-L but, as I had just completed the note below, I thought that I would nevertheless circulate it.

 

Colleagues ought to know of a troubling development in Senate House Library (SHL), the central library of the federal University of London located in Bloomsbury next to the British Museum. Its Trustees and Mr Christopher Pressler, its current Librarian, are proposing to sell no fewer than four of the Library’s Shakespeare Folios (the First, Second, Third, and Fourth), all of which have been together since at least the 1830s, and all of which were given to the University by Sir Louis Sterling (originally an American citizen) in 1956. 

 

By selling these irreplaceable items, Mr Pressler aims is to create an endowment fund to attract more readers and thus help to restore the Library’s government funding as a National Research Library that it lost in 2006. An entirely admirable aim but not, one would think, easily advanced by selling off major research materials, such as Shakespeare Folios, that were given to the University for safe and secure keeping. SHL serves many research institutes, not the least of which is the Institute of English Studies which has, among its senior research fellows, a number of internationally-renowned scholars of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. It also acts as a centre for the Arden edition of Shakespeare’s plays.

 

So far all this has been done behind closed doors. A public consultation is promised but as the books have already been transferred to the auction house Bonhams (why Bonhams?)  and the sale date agreed (12 November this year), this will be a very strange form of consultation.

 

Of course this is not just a matter of selling off a remarkable set of historically important books to highest bidder. It will cast a long and dark shadow over SHL. Who in the future will trust it? How many collections will it not be offered, how many givers will turn away with the reasonable feeling that the Library and its Trustees cannot be trusted?

 

This is not the first case of a library asset stripping its collections, nor will be the last, but it is a particularly egregious example. If we as book historians remain silent and do nothing, this will happen ever more frequently and ever more ruthlessly.

 

Simon Eliot

 
 

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