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UKPounds:1m Shakespeare folio stolen in university raid

UKPounds:1m Shakespeare folio stolen in university raid
By Nigel Bunyan and Will Bennett

A RARE 17th-century edition of Shakespeare's first folio, regarded by
academics as the most important book in the English language, has
been stolen from a library within the grounds of Durham University.
The goatskin-bound edition, published in 1623 and valued at around
UKPounds:1 million, was one of seven books stolen from the Bishop
Cosin Library, which stands a few yards from the city's cathedral.
Under normal circumstances it would have been retained in the
library's strongroom. However, since August it had been displayed in
a glass cabinet as the focal point of an exhibition of English
literature. Although night security is rigorous, during the day
researchers are allowed free access to the library. Security staff do
not search visitors and none reported anyone behaving suspiciously as
they left. Police believe the removal of all seven books from a
research reading room may have gone undetected for several days,
since those responsible used light-protective cloths to cover up the
two cabinets they had broken into with a jemmy.
The English literature exhibition had been due to close on Friday of
last week but was extended until Tuesday evening to allow delegates at
a visiting conference to view it. Staff noticed the thefts only on
Thursday, when they began to clear the exhibition in time for the
Christmas break.
Beth Rainey, who has looked after the collection for the past 30
years, said yesterday: "I am devastated. The Shakespeare folio is an
extremely significant book for the North-East and for the country. It
has been in single ownership since it was published and bought by John
Cosin, the Bishop of Durham, between 1660 and 1672. It is
Miss Rainey, 55, the university's sub-librarian for special
collections, said she could think of no legitimate market for the
book. "It may be that someone wanted a very great book, or else that
whoever has stolen it doesn't really know what they've got. We will
obviously have to have a major review of our security. There is always
a tension between security and use. We have a duty of curation, but at
the same time books are for use. People do not normally walk around
with a jemmy."
The first folio is the definitive anthology of Shakespeare's plays,
thereby providing the base for all subsequent collections. Dr
Christopher de Hamel, director of Western manuscripts at Sotheby's,
described it as "the most important printed book in the English
He estimated that between 200 and 300 copies survived around the
world, with more than 80 of these in Washington's Folker Shakespeare
The other books stolen were an early handwritten translation of the
New Testament, completed in the late 14th or early 15th Century; a
15th-century manuscript that includes two handwritten stanzas of a
Chaucer poem to the Blessed Virgin; two works by the 10th-century poet
Aelfric, printed in 1566 and 1709; an 1815 edition of Beowulf; and a
1612 book of maps and poetry.
Det Insp Andy Summerbell, of Durham Police, said his officers were
pursuing a number of lines of inquiry. He added: "While it is possible
that the crime was committed by local thieves it is very likely they
would have identified a buyer for such a specialist haul." Antiquarian
booksellers and collectors have been alerted to the theft, and police
are issuing further appeals via the Internet.
Last night a group of anonymous benefactors offered a UKPounds:5,000
reward for information leading either to the conviction of the
thieves or the safe recovery of the books. Keith Seacroft, a
spokesman for the university, said it was hoped that whoever had the
books would realise they were be "virtually impossible" to sell on
and would therefore hand them in to somewhere safe. Mr Seacroft said
university staff were "shocked and distressed" by the theft.
Mr Seacroft said: "These books are landmarks in the history of
English literature, and we were obviously very shaken and upset to
discover they had been taken. They were in a working area of the
library, so we believe the thieves must have taken advantage of a few
minutes when the room was not otherwise occupied."
Ed Maggs, managing director of Maggs Bros, the leading London
antiquarian book dealers, said: "These are the Crown Jewels of books
and manuscripts. The scale of this is so big and the importance of
these so great."
The last Shakespeare first folio to be sold fetched UKPounds:1.2
million as part of a larger set of books in New York in 1989. But the
folio alone would have probably sold for about UKPounds:900,000. Many
of the surviving Shakespeare first folios are in museums and
libraries and a copy in good condition is today worth about
UKPounds:1 million.

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