Henry Folger was not a man you would expect to become an obsessive collector of Shakespeareana. To begin with, he was an American. He became wealthy in the oil industry, eventually becoming president and chairman of Standard Oil of New York. But once he obtained his first First Folio (the 1623 volume of Shakespeare’s plays compiled by two of the bard’s best friends) in 1893, he started a collection that eventually grew into The Folger Shakespeare Library. The Millionaire and the Bard, by Andrea Mays, is the story of the book and the man who became obsessed with it.
Predictably enough, it was one of my favorite reads of 2016 (it was published in May 2015)–predictable because it combines my love for Shakespeare and Shakespeareana with my interests in history and books in general.
The Millionaire and the Bard artfully tells the story of the First Folio (fascinating in itself), without which many of Shakespeare’s plays would have been lost to history. It goes on to tell the story of Folger who, with his wife, eventually acquired eighty-two First Folios, far more than any other collector or institution, ending with the establishment of the library that bears their names and carries on their mission.
I enjoyed the book immensely and highly recommend it for lovers of Shakespeare or book collecting, as well as for anyone who likes a fascinating story that is well told.