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It Takes Climate Control And A Security Detail To Keep Rare Shakespeare Text Safe

If it hadn’t been for the printing of one book, you may have lived in a world without William Shakespeare. The 1623 First Folio, which includes iconic plays like Macbeth and The Tempest, could have been lost to the ages.

This irreplaceable piece of history is touring around the country, including a stop in Boulder, and just a few people are in charge of keeping the 400 year old book safe.

“You’re just always on guard, and you’re never feeling totally comfortable until you’re at point B and you’ve got it in the display case with the alarm system set,” said Sarah Lima, Director of Exhibits Business Development at the Cincinnati Museum Center and one of the couriers of the First Folio tour.

Folios are large books, consisting of pages only folded in half once. The First Folio groups the plays for the first time into comedies, histories, and tragedies, and it includes the Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare, generally considered an authentic image because it was approved by those who knew him.

Credit Sarah Lima / Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Shakespeare Library
Sarah Lima stances the First Folio in its cradle for display at the University of Colorado Art Museum.

The Folger Shakespeare Library, which owns 82 of the 235 surviving folios in the world is taking them to all 50 states and two U.S. territories over the course of a year. The next stop is at the University of Colorado Art Museum in Boulder. Lima said that there are several different folios traveling and that they are all a little bit different, given the printing process at the time.

Seven years after Shakespeare's death his friends and colleagues John Heminge and Henry Condell collected almost all of his plays in a folio edition.

Credit Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Shakespeare Library
The title page of one of the few surviving First Folios - one of which will be displayed at the University of Colorado Art Museum until Aug. 31, 2016.


The folios are very delicate, and Lima said it can be difficult in climates that have lots of humidity to keep the pages from getting too damp. That’s less of a problem during its stay in Colorado. Still, the folio has a special traveling case that controls humidity and temperature.

“We also have a security system that is associated with the book. We think a lot about lighting as well. There is also a whole light budget that goes along with the folio to guarantee that we’re not over exposing it in order to make sure that we’re not fading the pages in the process,” Lima said.

The tour has about a third left to go, and Lima has been impressed and surprised by people’s reaction to the folio.

Credit Sarah Lima / Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Shakespeare Library
Hope Saska, Pedro Caceres, and Stephen Martonis of CU Boulder Art Museum prepare the exhibition gallery for the opening of First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare in town until Aug. 31, 2016.

“Visitors [have been] moved to tears,” she says. “Visitors being really excited to have their photo taken with it. People engaging with it kind of for the first time...I think the coolest part about it is that that experience is being offered free to communities that may not otherwise have been able to see it.”  

The First Folio itself will be opened to the most quoted line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “to be or not to be.” A multi-panel exhibition exploring Shakespeare’s impact, then and now, will be accompanied by digital content and interactive activities. It is free to visit the folio at CU, but you need to register for a viewing time here

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