Back
  • Press release
  • |
  • New York
  • |
  • For immediate release
  • |
  • 14 October 2020

RELEASE: William Shakespeare’s 'First Folio' Sells for $9,978,000 and Sets World Auction Record for Any Work of Literature at Christie’s

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies.

Published According to the True Originall Copies.

London: Printed by Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623.

Estimate: $4,000,000-6,000,000

Price Realized: $9,978,000

WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR ANY WORK OF LITERATURE

New York – William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, often referred to as the “First Folio,” sold for $9,978,000 and established a new world auction record for any work of literature. The First Folio was included in ‘The Exceptional Sale’ at Christie’s New York on 14 October 2020 and exceeded its estimate of $4,000,000-6,000,000. The First Folio, bringing together for the first time the collected plays of Shakespeare, ranks as the greatest work of the English language and, indeed, of world literature. Already celebrated on its first publication, it has remained a highly sought-after masterpiece over four centuries.  Only six complete copies are known in private hands.

Margaret Ford, International Head of Group, Books & Manuscripts, London comments, “Christie’s is delighted to have established a new world auction record not only for a work by William Shakespeare, but for any work of literature. It is befitting that William Shakespeare’s First Folio, printed in 1623, holds this remarkable record, given its tremendous significance and influence around the globe.”

After six minutes of bidding between two other phone bidders, the First Folio was bought via phone bid by Stephan Loewentheil, who comments, “William Shakespeare is incomparably the greatest writer in the English language and one of most important international cultural influencers in all history. The first Folio is the most important collection of plays ever published and revered throughout the world. It is an honor to purchase one of only a handful of complete copies of this epochal volume. It will ultimately serve as a centerpiece of a great collection of intellectual achievements of man. We at the 19th-Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop are pleased you have worked through Christie’s to obtain this wonderful treasure.”

The book was published in 1623 by Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors, John Heminge and Henry Condell, who collaborated after the writer’s death to compile this authoritative edition of his work. The First Folio contains thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays, including eighteen that may have otherwise been lost forever — among the rescued works are Macbeth, The Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, and Julius Caesar. Heminge and Condell also shaped the way the world would read Shakespeare’s plays by organizing them for the first time into the categories of comedies, tragedies, and histories. The book’s large size helped elevate the cultural standing of Shakespeare and drama generally, as it assumed an imposing folio format typically reserved at the time for Bibles, theology, and law books.

About Christie’s

Founded in 1766, Christie’s is a world-leading art and luxury business. Renowned and trusted for its expert live and online auctions, as well as its bespoke private sales, Christie’s offers a full portfolio of global services to its clients, including art appraisal, art financing, international real estate and education. Christie’s has a physical presence in 46 countries, throughout the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Asia Pacific, with flagship international sales hubs in New York, London, Hong Kong, Paris and Geneva. It also is the only international auction house authorized to hold sales in mainland China (Shanghai).

Christie’s auctions span more than 80 art and luxury categories, at price points ranging from $200 to over $100 million. In recent years, Christie’s has achieved the world record price for an artwork at auction (Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi, 2017), for a single collection sale (the Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, 2018), and for a work by a living artist (Jeff Koons’ Rabbit, 2019).

Christie’s Private Sales offers a seamless service for buying and selling art, jewellery and watches outside of the auction calendar, working exclusively with Christie’s specialists at a client’s individual pace.

Recent innovations at Christie’s include the groundbreaking sale of the first NFT for a digital work of art ever offered at a major auction house (Beeple’s Everydays, March 2021), with the unprecedented acceptance of cryptocurrency as a means of payment. As an industry leader in digital innovation, Christie’s also continues to pioneer new technologies that are redefining the business of art, including the creation of viewing and bidding experiences that integrate augmented reality, global livestreaming, buy-now channels, and hybrid sales formats. 

Christie’s is dedicated to advancing responsible culture throughout its business and communities worldwide, including achieving sustainability through net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and actively using its platform in the art world to amplify under-represented voices and support positive change.

Browse, bid, discover, and join us for the best of art and luxury at: www.christies.com or by downloading Christie’s apps. The COVID-related re-opening status of our global locations is available here.