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Rare Shakespeare First Folio Fetches $5.2 Million

LONDON (Reuters) - A rare mint condition First Folio edition of William Shakespeare's plays fetched 2.8 million pounds ($5.2 million) at an auction on Thursday.

The result at Sotheby's in London was toward the lower end of estimates of between 2.5 and 3.5 million pounds, and fell short of the saleroom record for a comparable copy of $6.2 million made at Christie's, New York, in 2001.

The auctioneer said the copy had been bought by London book dealer Simon Finch Rare Books, suggesting the folio will be sold on again.

The seller was the Dr. William's Library, a research facility for English Protestant dissent which has owned the folio since at least 1716, making it the longest uninterrupted ownership by a public library of any copy.

"Its sale will significantly help the library by securing its finances and safeguarding their important historic collections of manuscripts and printed books," said Peter Selley, the specialist in charge of the sale.

The library was not immediately available for comment.

Printed in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, and containing 36 plays, less than 250 copies of the First Folio survive and most of those are incomplete.

The current example is still in its 17th century calf leather binding, and features notes in the margins apparently made by contemporary scholars.

At the time of Shakespeare's death in 1616, 18 plays now attributed to him had not reached print, and the First Folio has been credited with saving for posterity such classics as "Julius Caesar," "As You Like It," "Twelfth Night" and "The Tempest."

"There is no guarantee that these unpublished plays would ever have been put into print if the Folio had not appeared," said Stanley Wells, Chairman of the Trustees of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Several copies of the First Folio have been sold privately, including one purchased by John Paul Getty from Oriel College, Oxford, for an estimated 3.5 million pounds. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen reportedly bought another.

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