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