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Durham University

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Durham University celebrates return of Shakespeare First Folio

(9 July 2010)

Durham University is celebrating after a rare 17th Century First Folio of Shakespeare's plays was returned more than ten years after being stolen.

The Folio - the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays - was returned to the University following the conviction of Raymond Scott, 53, of Wingate, County Durham, at Newcastle Crown Court.

Scott was cleared of stealing the Folio but was found guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from the UK. He will be sentenced at a later date.

The Folio was one of seven books and manuscripts taken from Bishop Cosin's Library, part of the University Library, on Palace Green, Durham City, in December 1998.

The other six have never been recovered and Durham University is appealing for their return.

The Folio resurfaced in the summer of 2008 when it was handed in to the Folger Library, in Washington DC, by a man who asked for it to be valued. Folger Library staff contacted the authorities who subsequently arrested and charged Scott.

Although the University is delighted at the return of the book, there is disappointment that it has been damaged. The title-leaf has been torn out and it is generally in a poor condition.

As a result the book, which is essentially priceless in terms of its heritage value, has been given an estimated value of £1.5m.

The Folio will eventually be conserved by Durham University which employs some of the UK's expert conservators of rare books.

The Shakespeare First Folio was published in 1623. It was acquired by John Cosin, former Bishop of Durham, and was part of the library he established in Durham in 1669.  The Folio is the only one known to have stayed in the same personal library since its purchase.

At the time it was stolen experts described it as "the most important printed book in the English language".

Durham University plans to make the Folio the centrepiece of an exhibition of University treasures to be held in the refurbished University Library on Palace Green beginning in January 2011.

Bill Bryson, Chancellor of Durham University and author of an acclaimed book on Shakespeare, said: "Shakespeare's First Folio is arguably the most important book in English literature. It is fantastic that Durham's copy is coming home at last.

"I look forward to joining everyone in welcoming this wonderfully important book home to the University and the City when it eventually goes on display."

Durham University is custodian of a number of priceless historic treasures, many dating back to medieval times.

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: "The loss of the Folio, a national icon, was hugely upsetting for the University community, so it is tremendous that the book has been returned to where it rightfully belongs.

"Shakespeare's First Folio is extremely important, not only as a first collection of his works, but also a milestone in the history of English literature.

"We are delighted that the Folio will be able to be exhibited again alongside the many other historic and medieval treasures cared for by the University."

Professor Higgins added: "Since the theft, our security arrangements at Palace Green have been significantly tightened.

"The whole of the University Library, including Cosin's Library, is currently being refurbished to ensure all our treasures, of which this book is only the tip of the iceberg, are much more accessible to students, staff and the public while being fully protected both physically and environmentally."

The University will announce exact plans to display the Shakespeare First Folio and its other treasures at a later date.

The display will also include medieval manuscripts and other books from Bishop Cosin's Library. Museum objects such as the sword and robe of Ali Dinar, last Sultan of Darfur, now part of the University's Sudan archive, will also be on show.

Durham University is appealing for the return of the other books and manuscripts stolen along with the Folio.

Included in the theft were two late 14th or early 15th Century manuscripts. One was a piece by the medieval political writer Egidius Romanus, with an added fragment of a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales; the other was an English translation of the New Testament.

Also taken were two printed works by the 10th century scholar Aelfric, Abbot of Eynsham (dated 1566 and 1709); a first edition of a version of Beowulf, printed in 1815, and a volume containing three works on English history with maps - Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion (1612); William Slayter's The History of Great Britanie (1621) and Matthew Stevenson's  Florus Britannicus (1662).

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the other books is asked to contact Durham Constabulary on 0345 6060 365 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

The refurbishment of the University Library on Palace Green means Durham will have one of the best exhibition facilities in the UK.

The return of the Folio complements the anticipated return to Durham City's World Heritage Site in 2013 of the iconic Lindisfarne Gospels, on loan from the British Library.

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