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Wheler’s Folio

We hold incredibly special, valuable, and rare items in our Collections. One of these things is the Wheler Folio, acquired in 1862, is one of only three editions of Shakespeare's First Folio that we care for and look after.

Mareike Doleschal

Some of the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust’s most valuable books were donations, such as the so called ‘Wheler Folio’ named after its donor: Miss Anne Wheler. It’s a First Folio of Shakespeare’s works published in 1623 and is the book we most associate with Shakespeare. Without the publication of the first folio, eighteen plays would have been lost and we wouldn’t know Shakespeare as we know him today.

Upper board binding of the Wheler Folio
Upper board binding of the Wheler Folio

The Wheler Folio is one of the three First Folios looked after by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: the other two include the Ashburnham Folio - purchased from the Earl of Ashburnham, and currently on display in our Famous Beyond Words exhibition - and the Theatre Folio, owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and held at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

A page from the Wheler Folio
A page from the Wheler Folio

Anne’s brother, Robert Wheler, a solicitor and antiquary of Stratford-upon-Avon, acquired the Folio in 1820. In 1862 Anne presented the book to the Birthplace Library and Museum as part of a collection of books and documents assembled by her late brother Robert.

The dedication by Miss Wheler
The dedication by Miss Wheler

From the foundation of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library until about the early 2000s, library acquisitions, purchases as well as donations, were recorded in the so called accessions register, a very impressive looking and heavy volume (43 cm x 36 cm). The accession register describes the Wheler Folio as “imperfect” and indeed it is the least complete first folio in our collection. Apart from missing pages, this is also a much damaged book with torn and frayed pages and in desperate need of conservation.

A torn page of Cymbeline
A torn page of Cymbeline

Nevertheless, it is one of the most generous donations the Birthplace has ever received and without doubt is one of our most important books.