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Revealed: Why you can’t see the first folio at Durham Library anymore

Few Durham students know the whole story


Whilst many Durham students know that something dodgy happened with the University’s copy of a first folio, few can actually say what. Don’t worry if you’re one of them, though, because here’s a handy run down of the drama of the first folio. Covering everything from Pot Noodles to Cuba, you’re going to want to hear this one.

In December 1998, Durham’s prized copy of Shakespeare’s first folio was stolen from Durham University, taken from a glass cabinet in Bishop Coisin’s Library on Palace Green, along with a first edition of Beowulf, fragments of Chaucer, and a translation of the New Testament. The importance of the first folio to English Literature and culture cannot be stressed enough, with how plays such as Twelfth Night and Macbeth would have been lost to the ages, if it wasn’t for this compilation of Shakespeare’s plays.

News of the theft however, didn’t reach the world’s attention until 2008, when eccentric ‘antiques dealer’, Raymond Scott, tried to have it authenticated in Washington, by first folio experts, with the book estimated at the time to be worth about £3 million. He brought the book to Washington on the pretence that he was asked to do so by Cuban contacts, who had entrusted him with the book. Police believe that he had in actual fact racked up credit card debt of up to £90,000 sending money to his fiancé in Cuba, and so needed to make money quickly, seeing the stolen folio as a way of making money quickly.

Unbelieving of his story of Cuban Shakespeare collectors, the experts turned him over to the authorities, where he was arrested, and later tried at Newcastle Crown Court for the folio’s theft in 2010. Whenever photographed or making court appearances, Scott opted for sunglasses, gold jewellery and what became his signature item, a Bombay Badboy Pot Noodle, trying to appear as a wealthy antiques dealer.

Scott was known for making publicity stunts out of his court appearances, opting for a limousine with champagne and reading Shakespeare outside the Magistrate’s Court for the Press and locals. In reality, Scott was not an antiques dealer as he purported, instead receiving his only income from state benefits, whilst bragging that he had homes in Monte Carlo and Lichtenstein.

The flamboyant Scott was eventually given eight years prison sentence for his role in the stolen folio drama.

The first folio was returned to Durham in 2010, and was briefly displayed to celebrate its safe return, however is now kept in an environmentally controlled room in Palace Green library. Considering the state it was in when returned, the folio is not used for teaching, instead being carefully conserved at Durham University.

Featured image via Youtube

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