In "Collecting Shakespeare," Stephen H. Grant recounts the
American success story of Henry and Emily Folger of Brooklyn, a
couple who were devoted to each other, in love with Shakespeare,
and bitten by the collecting bug.
Shortly after marrying in 1885, the Folgers started buying,
cataloging, and storing all manner of items about Shakespeare and
his era. Emily earned a master's degree in Shakespeare studies. The
frugal couple worked passionately as a tight-knit team during the
Gilded Age, financing their hobby with the fortune Henry earned as
president of Standard Oil Company of New York, where he was a
trusted associate of John D. Rockefeller Sr.
While a number of American universities offered to house the
collection, the Folgers wanted to give it to the American people.
Afraid the price of antiquarian books would soar if their names
were revealed, they secretly acquired prime real estate on Capitol
Hill near the Library of Congress. They commissioned the design and
construction of an elegant building with a reading room, public
exhibition hall, and the Elizabethan Theatre. The Folger
Shakespeare Library was dedicated on the Bard's birthday, April 23,
The library houses 82 First Folios, 275,000 books, and 60,000
manuscripts. It welcomes more than 100,000 visitors a year and
provides professors, scholars, graduate students, and researchers
from around the world with access to the collections. It is also a
vibrant center in Washington, D.C., for cultural programs,
including theater, concerts, lectures, and poetry readings.
The library provided Grant with unprecedented access to the
primary sources within the Folger vault. He draws on interviews
with surviving Folger relatives and visits to 35 related archives
in the United States and in Britain to create a portrait of the
remarkable couple who ensured that Shakespeare would have a
beautiful home in America.
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