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The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry…

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for… (edition 2015)

by Andrea Mays (Author)

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15710107,561 (3.71)16
Title:The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio
Authors:Andrea Mays (Author)
Info:Simon & Schuster (2015), Edition: 1st edition, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Books about Books

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The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio by Andrea Mays



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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
If you are interested in Shakespeareana or even in rare books in general, this is a great book. In particular, I enjoyed the first part that described how the First Folio was originally put together, and how the next versions of the Folios changed (until Puritans came to power and the Folios stopped being printed altogether).

I didn't love Henry Folger himself, certainly not to the extent that the author, Andrea Mays, did. I really thought I would: I mean, he loved Shakespeare; I love Shakespeare. He was eccentric and reclusive; I am eccentric and as reclusive as my husband will put up with. Of course, Folger was also obscenely wealthy, which is, alas, where the similarities end.

But I had a couple of issues with Folger. First, I have qualms about his role at Standard Oil. It's hard to say a lot about that, given that Mays really doesn't cover his business career much except to list promotions; but what I know about the history of Standard Oil isn't flattering. Mays does make one brief comment to the effect that criticizing the treatment of Standard Oil's workforce displays an ignorance of economic realities; I did not find that a particularly convincing defense. Again, I don't know exactly what Folger did at Standard Oil. But I found it inherently difficult to root for an oil exec.

Secondly, the secrecy with which he conducted his negotiations bugged me, even though I realized it was a useful tactic. And when he's bidding against a library for an extremely valuable rare book with historical significance -- well, sorry, I want the library to win. It bothered me that Folger's acquisitions were hidden away. These are valuable pieces of literary history, and for years no one could study them--in fact, even Folger himself rarely saw them. What was the point of acquiring them? I kept wondering. Folger did seem to have a real affection for Shakespeare, but the appeal of the books seems to have been more of a game than anything else. To me, he was like a hunter who isn't hunting for food but just for the thrill. I thought it was a real shame that the books were essentially in a lockbox for decades.

I'm not arguing that Folger was a bad guy, necessarily, but I did wish the author had done a little more analysis of him as a person. I think a biography of him would probably be fascinating, but this book takes more of a bare-facts approach. The bare facts are interesting in themselves, but I still wish the author had engaged with Folger as a person a little more.

At the end of his life, of course, Folger did establish the beautiful Folger Shakespeare Library. This means that the many Folios he collected are now available for scholars to study, and I applaud him for that. Folger himself never got to see the finished library; like Moses, he died just before reaching the Promised Land.

( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Fascinating story of the one of the rarest and most-sought-after books in the world, the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, and the American industrialist who acquired more First Folios than anyone else in history. When Shakespeare died in 1616, it was by no means guaranteed he would become the immortal Bard he is today. He was one playwright among many in London, popular but my no means outstanding. Many of his plays had never been written down, no-one thought of them as literature. Without the intervention of two of his friends, its likely Shakespeare would be barely remembered, and at least half of his plays completely lost. But John Heminges and Henry Condell went to extraordinary lengths to gather the plays, sometimes cobbling them together from stage notes and directions, to be bound in a folio of 750 copies. The authors describes in great detail the lengthy processes of publishing in the 17th century, and the intriguing individualities of the various typesetters which can be determined today, including a bungling apprentice. Despite the publication of the First Folio, Shakespeare for many years remained relatively obscure, and the folios were not considered in any way valuable, hence many disappeared or were destroyed. Only gradually, with the rise in interest in Shakespeare, did the First Folio come to be seen as an object of desire and prices steadily mounted. Still, by the late 1800s, when Henry Clay Folger came on the scene, a First Folio could still be acquired for a few hundred dollars, a lot of money then admittedly, but compared to the astronomical prices they fetch today, they were bargains. It was the rise of a class of obsessive wealthy book-collectors, mostly Americans in the last decades of the 19th century, that changed things. Suddenly the First Folio became a massive prize, and collectors competed vigorously for the best ones, stalking the owners and trying to outbid each other. To the chagrin of the British, most of the purchased First Folios travelled across the Atlantic., and most of thos went to Folger. A canny businessmen who rose to the top of the monolithic Standard Oil, trusted confidant of Rockefeller, Folger and his wife Emily had a secret passion for Shakespeare, and spent the next forty years obsessively acquiring Shakespeariana, most particularly First Folios. Folger ended up owning 82, more than a third of the known existing copies. May delves deep into the fascinating world of the secretive Folgers, their quest for yet more Folios, for rare variants, their ongoing contest with other equally obsessive collectors, lengthy and painstaking negotiations with owners, and Folger's pillorying by the British collectors and media who bewailed the pillage of Britain's cultural treasures by Americans. In the end, Folger, facing his mortality, sought for way for his collection to stay together as a meaningful contribution to Western civilization. he conceived of a grand library, eventually built in Washington, which remains today as the Folger Shakespeare Library, containing the world's largest collection of Shakespeariana, including the prized First Folios. This is simply a fascinating book, part literary detective story, part biography of an obsessive collector, enthralling, superbly researched and literally gripping. ( )
  drmaf | Apr 23, 2018 |
"Let every man be master of his time": Mays, with intricate detail, compelling narrative style, and much heart, proves that Shakespeare and Folger indeed were, and the reader will feel as though they are intimately connected to both. ( )
  Birdo82 | Oct 9, 2017 |
The author's background in economics was apparent in the way she talked about pricing and about ownership rights – I was curious about that, so I'm glad. The way sales were negotiated was well describe. I also really enjoyed learning about the printing and production processes in creating the folios and quartos.

The book is structured somewhat like a Shakespeare play with stories within stories: the creation of the First Folio, Henry Folger's purchases and finally the building of the Folger library (which I've probably walked past but never knew existed). The middle (all the purchases) dragged a bit.

I guess the Millionaire and the Bard was a better title than the Millionaire and his Wife and the Bard, but I found Emily didn't get enough credit. Her exclusion from the last sentence in the book really struck me: “In the First Folio, Ben Jonson wrote William Shakespeare's truest epitaph: “He was not of an age, but for all time!” So, too, are Henry Clay Folger and his magnificent obsession.” There are other books that give Emily more of the recognition she deserves..

In the end, I decided this book was not about "the millionaire" or "the bard". We learned a lot about the millionaire's collection, but very little about him as a person. The book isn't really about the bard either, but about the attempt to capture some of his great writing for posterity. I got no sense that Henry Folger loved Shakespeare's works. His collection was locked away; he seemed to view the works he bought as commodities and never developed any expertise in the bard, his life or his works. The book is more about the "gilded age of capitalism" (as I've heard it called) and about the rising prominence of America as Britain's treasures were shipped across the Atlantic. ( )
  LynnB | Sep 12, 2017 |
I saw an episode of CSPAN book tv which featured the author and book. I put it on my wish list, but was unsure if it was too much background info on Folger & Shakespeare. Once I got through the first couple chapters, it became fairly interesting, and was actually a quick read. Ms Mays knows her subject thoroughly, and definitely has a passion for it. It was a nice change of pace from just reading the plays. ( )
  delta351 | May 29, 2017 |
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Thou in our wonder and astonishment, Hast built thyself a live-long monument. --John Milton. An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatic Poet, W. Shakespeare
And now I will unclasp a secret book, and to your quick-conceiving discontents I'll read you matter deep and dangerous. Henry IV, Part I
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It started, as many great obsessions do, with an unremarkable incident, an encounter between a man and a book.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 143911823X, Hardcover)

Today it is the most valuable book in the world. Recently one sold for over five million dollars. It is the book that rescued the name of William Shakespeare and half of his plays from oblivion. The Millionaire and the Bard tells the miraculous and romantic story of the making of the First Folio, and of the American industrialist whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession.

When Shakespeare died in 1616 half of his plays died with him. No one—not even their author—believed that his writings would last, that he was a genius, or that future generations would celebrate him as the greatest author in the history of the English language. By the time of his death his plays were rarely performed, eighteen of them had never been published, and the rest existed only in bastardized forms that did not stay true to his original language.

Seven years later, in 1623, Shakespeare’s business partners, companions, and fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell, gathered copies of the plays and manuscripts, edited and published thirty-six of them. This massive book, the First Folio, was intended as a memorial to their deceased friend. They could not have known that it would become one of the most important books ever published in the English language, nor that it would become a fetish object for collectors.

The Millionaire and the Bard is a literary detective story, the tale of two mysterious men—a brilliant author and his obsessive collector—separated by space and time. It is a tale of two cities—Elizabethan and Jacobean London and Gilded Age New York. It is a chronicle of two worlds—of art and commerce—that unfolded an ocean and three centuries apart. And it is the thrilling tale of the luminous book that saved the name of William Shakespeare “to the last syllable of recorded time.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:21 -0400)

"Today it is the most valuable book in the world. Recently one sold for over five million dollars. It is the book that rescued the name of William Shakespeare and half of his plays from oblivion. The Millionaire and the Bard tells the miraculous and romantic story of the making of the First Folio, and of the American industrialist whose thrilling pursuit of the book became a lifelong obsession." --… (more)

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