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Rare edition of Hamlet fails to sell

Nearly 400-year-old book is one of 19 copies of ths 1611 printing known to still exist.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A rare edition of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” valued at well over $1 million, failed to sell at auction when the bidding fell short of the seller’s minimum.

The nearly 400-year-old book is one of 19 copies of the 1611 printing known to exist and is the only one remaining in private hands. It was owned by Mary Hyde, Viscountess Eccles, a renowned New Jersey book collector and English literature scholar best known for her extensive Samuel Johnson collection, now at the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

Christie’s auction house had estimated its worth between $1.5 and $2 million. But bidding began Wednesday at $900,000 and stalled at $1.2 million, which was shy of the seller’s confidential reserve, or minimum price.

Lady Eccles, who was among the first women admitted to the bibliophile Grolier Club in New York, was 91 when she died in August. Her Samuel Johnson collection, and other books in her collection, were pledged to institutions, including Harvard; the remainder was auctioned Wednesday, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting her many philanthropic interests.

The Second Quarto — so named because the paper was folded four times in the printing process — was first published in 1604. It was the second edition of “Hamlet” printed, but only the first authorized edition.

The work being auctioned was the second edition of Hamlet and third printing overall, and the last edition of “Hamlet” printed while Shakespeare was still alive.

The First Quarto, published in 1603, was apparently printed without Shakepeare’s permission and contained errors; a later collection of his works, the First Folio, was published posthumously, in 1623.