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The Margin: This 400-year-old Shakespeare book sold for nearly $2.5 million at auction

A fan of the Bard just shelled out some big bucks for a piece of history.

Sotheby’s sold a rare, nearly 400-year-old Shakespeare tome, dubbed the Shakespeare First Folio, for $2.47 million at an auction in New York on July 21. The pre-auction estimate for the item was $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

Sotheby’s said the buyer opted to remain private.

The First Folio is essentially just that — the first major collection of Shakespeare’s plays, an “important record that preserved Shakespeare’s legendary output forever,” Sotheby’s said. The auction house noted that less than 20 copies of the book remain in private hands, making such a sale highly unusual.

Of course, a book that dates back to 1623 can’t be in perfect condition. Sotheby’s noted that there are “annotations, doodles, ink spills and markings” on many pages, but the auction house suggested they add a certain character to the item and reveal details about the various people who owned it in the past. The book has indeed traded hands over the years, and has been owned by everyone from a well-known 19th-century racehorse breeder to a 20th-century political activist, according to the auction house.

Another copy of the First Folio was by sold at auction by Christie’s for nearly $10 million in 2020. At the time, Christie’s said it was the most expensive sale ever for a work of literature.

And what might the Bard himself say about all this? Shakespeare did recognize what riches can buy. “If money go before, all ways do lie open,” he wrote in “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”

The Shakespeare folio wasn’t the only big sale at the Sotheby’s auction. A copy of Virginia’s official ratification of the U.S. Constitution, along with two sets of proposed amendments, sold for $3.1 million. The historic 13-page document from June 25, 1788, is considered something of a blueprint for what became the Bill of Rights.

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