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Folio at 400 Celebrations Come to An End at Shakespeare’s New Place as the First Folio is Returned to Storage

A year-long celebration marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio has concluded in Stratford-upon-Avon as The Great Variety of Readers: Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare’s First Folio exhibition at Shakespeare’s New Place closed for a final time on November 5, 2023.

As part of the SBT’s Folio at 400 celebrations, The Great Variety of Readers exhibition attracted thousands of visitors of all ages from around the world. Visitors came to view the centrepiece of the exhibition – that is the Ashburnham First Folio, an original copy of the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays acquired by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) in the 19th Century and remains one of the most important items in its world-class collection today.

It is believed that approximately 750 copies of the First Folio were published in 1623, seven years after the death of William Shakespeare, and today, there are 235 copies that have survived across the world, with three of them in the care of the SBT.

Since March 25, 2023, one of these copies, known as the Ashburnham First Folio, has been on display in The Great Variety of Readers exhibition. Now, the centuries old book has returned to the SBT’s collection storage for a period of five years.

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First Folio being removed by Emily White, Curator at the SBT

‘’Books, even modern ones, are one of the most difficult types of objects to care for as they are predominantly made of organic materials. These organic materials are highly susceptible to damage caused by certain environmental conditions. Because of this, it was important that we returned the First Folio to our collection store, where we can conserve and protect the 400-year-old book from damage.

‘’Our collection stores are environmentally controlled to ensure they provide the best possible environment for, not only the First Folio, but for over one million objects in our care. To cancel out the exposure to light and agents of deterioration, the First Folio will be rested for five years. This simply means that this special book will remain in our store for a certain period, away from light and physical handling or display. With these measures we hope to be able to share the First Folio with our visitors in 400 years from now.’’

Commented Emily White, Curator at the SBT.

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SBT’S Collections Manager, Amy Hurst handling the notebook

Indeed, the continued conservation of the First Folios under the care of the Stratford-based learning and heritage charity is of the utmost importance, to ensure that future generations have access to this important book.

This also includes the digitisation of the Folio under the care of the Trust to ensure people have access to the book wherever they are in the world. 106 pages of the Ashburnham First Folio have been digitised and made available on the SBT’s collections database, providing people with a close-up view of the First Folio.

‘’The First Folio is one of the most important and enduring artistic legacies of all time. Throughout centuries, this book has significantly influenced literature and theatres, empowering communities worldwide. We are delighted that our celebrations and the exhibition received such a positive response from visitors, and that the Folio is continuing to impact and inspire all individuals.

‘’Now, as the First Folio is returned to our collection store, we can keep it safe for another 400 years, and give audiences future opportunities to see this special book in person.’’

Added Professor Charlotte Scott, Director of Knowledge at the SBT.

Alongside the First Folio was a seal ring bearing the initials W.S, thought to have been worn by Shakespeare himself and a 17th Century notebook of one of his earliest and most devoted fans, which was publicly exhibited for the first time.

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Seal ring removed by Amy Davies, Collections Care Assistant at the SBT

In addition to the exhibition, the SBT hosted a series of Folio inspired special events and activities aimed at a variety of audiences from children to Shakespeare enthusiasts and experts, across the year. Events included online Research Conversations and a Folio-inspired trail across Shakespeare’s family homes.

The SBT’s collection team are now planning the next exhibition based around its new multi-year theme, The Women Who Made Shakespeare. The three-year theme explores the impact that women have had on creating and maintaining the enduring legacy of the Stratford-born playwright. For more information, visit:

To view the SBT’s extensive online collections catalogue, visit